Turtle Cove: A Good Neighborhood in Need of Help

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page

        

     A vacant home on the corner of Blue Jay and Oriole with grass waist high, cars speeding down Oriole, meth addicts loitering in the park that borders NAS property, and a tent city along the Oso that appeared to be a haven for the homeless and drug users prompted Diane Bonneau and other Turtle Cove residents to take action in their neighborhood in June of 2015.  This subdivision is the home to many long-time residents who love their once serene neighborhood that was built around Turtle Cove pond where many water birds, including the Black-bellied Whistling Duck, glide in at sunset and settle in among their human neighbors.  In the last few years, Bonneau and her neighbors have grown tired of the illegal activity taking place in their neighborhood and are worried about the effects on the children in the area.

Turtle Cove 4

      “I love my amazing view on the Oso and my incredible neighbors who have become my extended family. I don’t believe I will ever live anywhere else,” said Bonneau.  “I am saddened by what I see in and around the Bluff and the drug that has robbed so many lives and all the collateral damage that goes along with a meth addiction.  It’s a community problem and requires a community response. I am frustrated with the mentality that ‘It’s the Bluff. There will always be meth in the Bluff.'”

Oso

     Like many neighborhoods across America, Turtle Cove is suffering from the fallout from the methamphetamine problem that is growing daily.  The difference is that the neighbors of Turtle Cove decided to take control of the situation.  After promises made by City officials at a town hall meeting failed to come to fruition, Bonneau and several of her neighbors made multiple calls to code enforcement, law enforcement, Parks and Recreation, and District 4 Council member Colleen McIntyre but got no results. The residents decided to clean up the tent camp on the Oso themselves.  This prompted  McIntyre and the other contacted entities to follow through with the promises to clean and patrol the area.  With everyone working together, the homeless tent community was cleared out and hauled off; the park was mowed and lighted; and all seemed well in the little community.

Turtle Cove 1

Turtle Cove 2 Turtle Cove 3

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     Six months later, the neighborhood was faced with a new problem.  On December 29, 2015, a man later identified as a registered sex offender and known methamphetamine user who had been evicted from his parents’ home, allegedly entered a house unlawfully on the corner of Raven and Oriole, took a shower, exposed himself to a 12-year-old girl who resided there, and left, according to Diane Bonneau and other neighbors. The owner of the house, who is the father of the victim, called the police.  After the responding officer dusted for fingerprints,  collected articles for evidence, and took statements, he left, and the owner sent his wife and daughter away for the night.

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     The next morning, between 4 and 5 a.m., the intruder returned, allegedly opened the window to the room of the 12-year-old girl, then fell asleep on the back porch.  Upon discovering the man, the owner of the house called the police and reported the incident.  The officer who responded recognized the intruder and stated that the man was known to do this.  When the officer addressed the intruder, the man jumped the fence.  The police apprehended him and removed him from the neighborhood.

     Later that morning, the owner of the house was going to breakfast at a nearby restaurant when he spotted a suspicious-looking man walking down the street, so he followed him in his car.  It was the intruder from earlier, and he was attempting to enter the man’s yard again.  When he saw the owner, he ran off.  The next day, the intruder was seen at approximately 7:00 a.m. by a neighbor.  He was again attempting to gain entrance into the man’s back yard.  The neighbor chased him, but the man escaped through a hole in the fence surrounding a nearby apartment complex.  The Turtle Cove neighbors did not give up.  After many calls and emails to CCPD, Mayor Martinez’s office, and anyone who might be able to offer assistance, they were able to provide enough information to have the man arrested.

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    Within two weeks, Bonneau sent an email to Chief Markle’s office when she heard that he would be in attendance at the Town Hall meeting held on Tuesday, January 12, 2016.  She let him know that increased patrols had “calmed things down.”  She also had several questions she wanted him to answer at the meeting:
  • What can we realistically expect this time around knowing that there are issues throughout the city, and resources can’t be continually concentrated in one area?
  • Is there a long-term plan to reduce the drug activity and crime that inherently goes along with drug issues for our area?
  • As a neighborhood, how can we help?
  • Since most neighbors are not interested in participating in a Neighborhood Watch program that requires meetings and a block captain, what are the other options?

 

     Two days before the meeting was to occur, another incident occurred in the Turtle Cove neighborhood.   Bonneau explained in an email to Chief Markle that she had seen a male wearing a red, Under Armour hoodie.  The man seemed to be upset and was cussing about something.  She watched as he walked to a light maroon, Dodge Ram, four-door pickup that was parked in the cul-de-sac.  The vehicle’s reverse lights were on, and a woman was inside. The man got in and continued to sit there. Within a minute, a neighbor on Lovebird walked out of her garage and yelled something at them about being in her garage.  A  girl in the front seat of the truck started yelling and cursing in response.  Bonneau then walked toward the truck and took a photo of the plates with her cell phone. The driver backed up a little and said, “We aren’t doing anything.”  (Please find below a clarification submitted by a woman who was involved in this incident.)

     According to Bonneau, an officer stopped by her house later to let her know that the couple tossed some of their possessions and ran into a home on Flour Bluff Drive.  The officer recovered a phone belonging to the female.  Bonneau was hopeful that the phone might offer some information that would lead to an arrest or at least to the discovery of other people who might be driving through neighborhoods, entering open garages, and taking valuables from her neighbors.

Cdr Todd Green

     Chief Markle was unable to attend the January 12 meeting but sent several officers in his place.  The officers who were in attendance were unable to appease the Turtle Cove residents and left them wondering what to do next.  Bonneau was unhappy that the only advice they were given was to look out for each other, something that the neighbors of Turtle Cove have been doing for some time.  The next Flour Bluff Town Hall Meeting will be February 10, 2016, at the Texas A&M Center for Innovation, at 6:30 p.m.  Council members McIntyre and Magill have agreed to attend and attempt to answer the questions posed by this very connected neighborhood.  Another meeting just for the Turtle Cove residents has been tentatively scheduled February 1, at 6:00 p.m.

Note: Watch for an update in The Paper Trail News relating recent events in this neighborhood.

Clarification:   “My garage door had apparently not closed all the way when I’d last come home. I walked into my garage to do something and realized the door was opened. At the same time, the man was approaching the garage and walked in towards me. I believe I startled him, because he quickly said he was going to come ask if he could use my phone. He said something about that he probably shouldn’t have come up ‘like this,’ referring to the bandana he had on his head. I said no to the phone request, and he walked back out. When I came back in the house, I noticed him walking down the street on a phone. Just then, my mom pulled into my driveway. I didn’t want her out there alone with this man so I went out to walk her inside. He was yelling into the phone, attracting the attention of other neighbors. The man got into the back of the truck that had been parked in the cul-de-sac. It was then that Ms. Bonneau approached and started taking pictures of the truck. I did not come out yelling at the girl in the truck. She rolled down the window and began yelling at me for ‘mean-mugging’ her because I was standing in front of my house looking at the truck. She yelled obscenities at me as they drove away as well. “

Related Article:  “Involved Neighbors Make for Good Neighborhoods”

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Involved Neighbors Make for Good Neighborhoods

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page

Waxwing House

     In light of a recent rash of criminal activity in the Turtle Cove subdivision in Flour Bluff, it is understandable that some residents have been more than just a bit unsettled.  In the last week alone, the police raided a home on Waxwing that neighbors have suspected for some time was a haven for illicit drug use, answered a call where a 28-year-old woman reported her door kicked in and her home on Oriole burglarized, and responded to a shooting at 3:00 a.m. on the 900 block of Oriole where they met several people outside their homes after a car was damaged from gunfire.  Are the neighbors ready to give up and move out?  Residents who were interviewed love their neighborhood and have no intention of leaving.  They do, however, have a plan of action for returning their neighborhood to the quiet, safe area it was not so long ago, starting with a select group of residents meeting with District 4 Council member, Colleen McIntyre, and representatives from various departments of law enforcement.

     “It’s something that needs to happen since the last town hall meeting really didn’t give us any answers,”  said Wes Womack, a long-time resident who patrols his neighborhood four times throughout the day and even at night.  “From midnight to 4:00 a.m., there are lots of people on bicycles carrying backpacks through the neighborhood.  I’m just asking for more police to patrol our neighborhood and see what these people are up to – to be a deterrent.”

Turtle Cove Park

     Womack said that after the town hall meeting, he did see more of a police presence for a few days, but then there was nothing.  “I don’t want promises,” Womack said.  “I want solutions.”

     Womack said that he is trying to be proactive and even convinced his neighbors to install and turn on security lights a few months ago.  He said that many residents are gun owners and are headed to a local shooting range to receive training in handling, cleaning, and shooting a gun.  “Safety is the most important factor,” Womack said.  “They need to be proficient with a weapon if they are going to use it for protection.  You can read a book on being an astronaut, but it won’t help you fly a rocket.  You have to practice.”

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     The young woman whose home was burglarized said, “I’m not afraid to live here.  I have always lived in Flour Bluff, and I love it here.”  She, like Womack, has no intention of allowing a “few bad apples” in the neighborhood to steal her possessions or her peace of mind.  She said that she understands that the limited number of police officers in the BRAVO district make response times slower for non-violent offenses, such as the break-in at her house.  “Luckily, I have people – neighbors and family members – who come to my aide.”

      “Neighbors helping neighbors, we definitely have that happening here. I’ve not been the victim of any of the situations out here, but I do try my best to help my neighbors with information, and I do look out for those around me. We are networking together to share info and are exploring our options,” said Diane Bonneau, a Turtle Cove resident who has been a leader in getting the residents to communicate with each other through social media sites such as NextDoor and Facebook.

    OsoAll residents who were interviewed, expressed a desire to work alongside law enforcement and other social service departments to make a positive impact on their neighborhood.  Bonneau said, “I’ve lived in the Bluff for about 25 years, all of it on Oso Bay, starting in the Wharf Apartments as I finished college. I would sit on my patio and look out at the strip of houses that backed up to the bay and said, ‘I will live in one of those houses!’  I live on Oriole Street in Turtle Cove in one of those houses now. I love the Bluff. Love my amazing view on the Oso and my incredible neighbors who have become my extended family. I don’t believe I will ever live anywhere else.”

 

 

 

Related Article:  “Turtle Cove: A Good Neighborhood in Need of Help”

 

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Magill Speaks to FBBA at January Meeting

Corpus Christi, Flour Bluff, Front Page

     FBBA

     The Flour Bluff Business Association, a task force of business leaders who promote the safety, service, and growth of the Flour Bluff community, welcomed Councilman Chad Magill as its keynote speaker at the January 6, 2016, meeting held at noon at Funtrackers in Flour Bluff.  Magill focused on the new year and talked about “big ticket items” for the city.

     “The EPA expects us to agree to pay $853 million on your wastewater system over the next 12 to 15 years.  We can’t afford it.”  Magill admitted that the system absolutely needs improvements and that the City has been discussing the issue since 2009.  Magill said that part of the reason for his failure to support Destination Bayfront stemmed from the knowledge of the pending wastewater bill.

     “Anytime we spend 72 million of tax dollars on anything but what we have to spend it on, you have to ask if we can afford it,” Magill said.

PlanCC

     Magill told the audience he believed the City should be focused on reconstruction and maintenance of streets, public safety, wastewater, and water supply.  He emphasized the importance of getting the fundamentals right and putting needs before wants.  This led Magill to address PlanCC 2035 (now 2036).  Magill said, “Your city government shouldn’t have to be the ones to create the social environment for success.  We shouldn’t be the ones to pay for free swimming lessons or for free internet service across the city.  We see a lot of those proposed policies in PlanCC 2035.  I have some serious doubts whether that plan moves forward.”  Magill added that he put a plan together based on the existing comprehensive plan and sent it to City staff in December 2015.  “It takes the good from our existing plan – which actually includes public safety – and includes parts from the proposed PlanCC 2035 to create a real-world plan that keeps us focused on our needs.”

      Magill talked about the new harbor bridge and what an amazing feat it was to bring together the Port of Corpus Christi, the City of Corpus Christi, Nueces County, TxDot, and a number of local organizations and finally settle upon the building of a billion-dollar bridge.  He praised the efforts of Representative Todd Hunter who was “a champion for the bridge.”  Magill said that the new bridge should be looked at as an essential part of economic development for the area and that construction should begin as soon as 2017.

 

     The councilman then shifted to the topic of zero-based budgeting.  “You’re going to see – for our generation – the largest push for a zero-based budget in our city government ever.  It’s a challenge to City staff, but City Manager Ron Olson accepted the challenge.”  Magill said that some of his colleagues on council believe he may have challenged staff too much.  “They have concerns.  I understand that, but at the same time, these are your tax dollars.”

      Magill explained that zero-based budgeting will require City departments to justify spending tax dollars by aligning the spending with the mission.  “Everyone has to budget where their dollars go.  You do it.  My wife and I do it.  Shouldn’t we expect that of our City government?”  He sees it as an opportunity for the department heads to shine.  “If they embrace it and do well,” Magill said he would fight for their funding and for them to be successful.  Magill FBBA

     Magill then turned to the topic of Flour Bluff and spoke about his desire to get Laguna Shores Road on the 2018 bond.  “Every time I’m in Flour Bluff, I drive down Laguna Shores to remind me of the need.”  He went on to commend James Skrobarczyk, who was in the audience, for serving on the residential street committee and praised the ad hoc committee for accomplishing so much in a short period of time.

     He explained that they had uncovered some wasteful practices and inefficiencies in the Street Preventative and Maintenance Plan (SPMP).  He offered an example. “Kingsville spends about $2.50 per square foot on overlays while Corpus Christi spends $8.00 per square foot for the same work.”  When asked how that could be, Magill said, “Part of it is inefficiencies of government; part of that is multiple inspection layers; part of that is – frankly – writing contracts that allow contractors to make ‘obscene amounts of profit.’ ” He told the FBBA that he would love to speak to them again in June or July to fill them in on the recommendations from the street committee and how the City will move toward zero-based budgeting.

     When asked if Council member Colleen McIntyre’s proposal last year to raise property taxes by 8 cents to pay for residential street construction is the only form of funding available, Magill said, “The Caller-Times reported that 8 cents of ad valorem property taxes per year would raise $20 million, when in actuality, it would raise $13.6 million.”  After texting Ron Olson that his numbers were wrong, Olson came back a couple of days later and agreed Magill was correct in his calculations.

IMG_4005   “When they’re talking about throwing more taxpayer money at an inefficient system, how much of that money is going to be wasted?  I took an unpopular stance on council, and I said, ‘No, I can’t support a property tax increase without a plan.’ “

     Magill said that oftentimes a government entity will ask for a lot of money first then develop a plan around it second.  “Then they do the work and go on the defense and tell you how good it was. We’ve got to change that process and ask everyone to be open to a change in that kind of thinking.  The missing component is being able to put a plan together, share that with the community – which we’ll do in June or July – and ask how much of this plan would you like to invest in?”

     “Multiple funding sources is the key.  From re-purposing sales tax, we can pay the debt service off on Whataburger Field, and that gives you between $2 and $2.5 million a year.  That’s sales tax, which is mostly a tax that is appropriate for infrastructure.  In good times, you do more; in bad times, you do less.  Then, you look at cutting from within the budget.  We tried a 1% cut last year; that didn’t work.  We held the line on increasing materials and operations costs, but effectively we didn’t save much money.  That’s why we’re going the zero-based route.”

    Magill explained that savings within the budget will go to two things:  One is streets and the other is City employee raises.  “Think about the people who are going to do the work to find those inefficiencies within their own department budgets.  If we’re going to challenge them harder, we have to somehow align goals.  If you tell a department head that he/she needs to save money in the department and that part of the money saved will go into giving that department a raise, then people’s goals are starting to align.  Efficiency is part of good, quality government.”

     “Another funding source is potentially the RTA.  They could be a funding partner, and I think they’re open to that now.  The key here is to go to multiple funding sources with property taxes being the last in line.  If we had raised property taxes last year at 8 cents, your only guarantee is that your property taxes will go up.  If we had passed Destination Bayfront, that would have also added to the cost for the taxpayer.  If we’re going to focus on needs, let’s do it the right way.  The residential street committee is culling the bad from the current program and keeping the good to find out the most efficient way to tackle residential streets.”

     Precinct 4 County Commissioner Brent Chesney and ad hoc street committee chairman Andy Taubman have the same thought as Magill about the RTA redirecting more funds to the streets.  New RTA chairman, Curtis Rock, has not officially weighed in on this possibility.

     Magill answered questions from the audience on the topics of the failed Citizens’ Collection Center (Solid Waste Transfer Station).  He cited the main reasons for the failure as:

  • the $4.65 million price tag, which would have come in the form of a 20-year debt,
  • a raise in solid waste rates, and
  • a petition against the facility with 700 signatures from residents who live near the proposed site on Flour Bluff Drive.

He also discussed the positive aspects of privatization of City services and used the municipal golf courses as an example of how privatization has improved the quality of the golf courses while saving the City money.  Magill FBBA 2

     FBBA member, Michael Morgan, encouraged fellow members to stay in contact with Chad Magill.  “He is very accessible and very approachable.  He’ll tell you the facts, and he won’t rose-color anything.  If you have concerns or want to learn something, of course we have our District 4 representative, but Chad also represents us as an at-large council member.  I just want to thank him publicly for the job he’s doing for us out here.”

 

 

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Confidence, Fear, and Patience: “A General Theory of Creativity”

Arts, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial
Original artwork © Matthew Thornton
Original artwork © Matthew Thornton

     Ever been so sure of an idea that you rushed through it on impulse, overlooked something small (or big), and proceeded to watch your idea come crashing to the ground? Worse yet, ever wanted to create something that you were afraid might not amount to much if seen by other people, so you decided never to begin? Or what about that time you knew exactly what you wanted to produce, took all the necessary steps, and then watched in surprise with everyone around you as your idea came full circle from concept to reality? If the answer is no, stop reading here and go to a library or a museum, or anyplace at all that might fill your soul with a whisper of a thrill or a spark of inspiration. If, on the other hand, the answer is yes to any or all of the preceding questions, then I have one more question for you: Have you ever wondered why your creative undertakings succeed or fail, and how you can ensure that your next idea will come to fruition?

     Creativity exists in the narrow fracture between confidence and fear, a place where patience holds the reins and gives us the courage not only to forge ahead, but also the acute awareness of when to slow down. Mindful rousing and taming of your creative inner giant is developed through artistic patience – a skill requiring a conscious awareness of purpose, a self-reflection of habit, and the most recalcitrant element of all: time.

Original artwork © Matthew Thornton
Original artwork © Matthew Thornton

     Confidence, though wildly desirable, has the nagging ability to produce a self-righteous voice in our heads: gas-pedal to the floor, eyes on the horizon, all the while neglecting the side and rearview mirrors. Anyone who has felt it is sure to be addicted to the high of feeling unbridled certainty. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. Without the lows, after all, highs would be indistinguishable. Pure confidence, therefore, rarely produces our most creative selves.

Original Artwork © Matthew Thornton
Original Artwork © Matthew Thornton

     Fear, on the other hand, produces nothing short of a well-armored fortress of excuses, telling us we should wait for ideas to strike, for resources to appear, and for acceptance by the masses. Worse yet, fear not only cripples creative impulse, but it also has the sneaky ability to transform in such a way that falsely spins our angst into the image of patience. Fright tricks us into telling ourselves, “It’s okay… Take your time… Don’t act too fast.”  Make no mistake; this is not real patience.  It is the proliferation and paralysis of fear.

Sun Worshiper © Matthew Thornton
Sun Worshiper © Matthew Thornton

     Unlike the extremes of confidence and fear, creative patience settles our minds in such a way that not only fuels confidence but also seeks and destroys fear; it pushes us forward without allowing us to act in haste. Ironically, it is the moments during which we feel the most sure that we might need to slow the cart, and the moments during which we feel the most fearful that we should forge ahead.  More time and more tools do not equal more freedom, more productivity, or necessarily even better quality. In fact, real freedom is found in limitation, which means that with the correct mindset, having access to fewer resources and less time can often lead to both more and better results. Creative patience spurs us into taking the time to figure out why and how we should create something, and then, without rushing or skipping steps, creating it.

     Don’t wait to start until the ideas strike; strike until the ideas start. Don’t wait until you have the tools to build; build with whatever tools you have. And above all – don’t fall slave to trends of the majority. Go the other way. Be a misfit, make your own rules, and remember that creativity is a result of lifestyle and habits. So shape your thoughts and actions accordingly and make your ideas become reality.

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Takin’ It to the Streets: CC Streets Program Headed Down a Better Road

Corpus Christi, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

SPMPsignage

It appears that Andy Taubman and the other members of the ad hoc street committee are making a difference in changing the status quo down at the street department. At Tuesday’s council meeting,  Valerie Gray, the city’s executive director of public works for the past year, presented a plan that sounds almost identical to what Taubman and his “A Team” have deemed necessary in order to get the runaway street problem under control.

Andy Taubman 1
Andy Taubman, Ad Hoc Street Committee Chairman

Currently the Street Preventative Maintenance Program has completed less than half of the projects that were slated for completion by 2016.  From the data collected by the street committee, it appears that the department created its own roadblocks by creating an environment of “We will continue to do today what we did yesterday” even when it wasn’t working well.

This outdated way of building and maintaining streets worked extremely well for a handful of big contractors, especially one who claims to have made over a billion dollars off city street jobs.  This comment was made when contractors were invited to attend the third meeting of the committee to address what is working and what is not working in the current SPMP program.

One of the committee members, Alan Guggenheim, who has lived up to his description on Linked In as “highly experienced in reorganizing, streamlining, and strengthening business to maximize delivery performance, customer satisfaction, profitability, and shareholder value across operations,” asked a simple question of one contractor.  “What are your criteria for measuring success?”  It was a reasonable question, a good question, a question asked by private business owners all the time, but one that amazingly hasn’t been asked of the contractors until now.

Guggenheim
Alan Guggenheim, Committee Member  (LinkedIn Photo)

The contractor’s answer?  “Make an obscene profit.”  Well, that’s great for the businessman, and certainly that’s how capitalism works.  But, what does that say about the way the City has been spending our hard-earned tax dollars? Maybe now there will be some accountability within the system.  It’s amazing how new eyes on an old problem can lead to solutions.

In today’s Caller-Times article, Mayor Nelda Martinez is quoted as saying, “There’s no question of the unprecedented construction work underway on our streets. This is the most bullish we’ve ever been on streets, and I know we’re going to get better — there’s always room for improvement — but I can’t tell you how proud I am.”  Perhaps the Mayor and the other three council members who were adamantly against the formation of the committee in the beginning are starting to see the good that has come from this group of concerned and knowledgeable citizens .  Surely they have made the connection between what has come out of the committee and this sudden change in the “business as usual” attitude of City staff.

Councilman Chad Magill, who initiated the creation of the committee, is at every meeting and is often seen seated next to Carolyn Vaughn, a savvy business owner and council member who supported the creation of the committee and nominated Alan Guggenheim to serve on it.  The five who were in favor of the committee from the start (Magill, Vaughn, Rubio, Garza, and Rosas) should be proud of their efforts in taking the first step to fixing a broken program. Magill told the Caller-Times, “I’m more confident in our seal coat process than I ever have been.”  He went on to say that he anticipated even more improvements to come from the recommendations of the street committee.

Magill FBBACarolyn Vaughn

Next week Council will hear the full plan that includes the City being more small-contractor friendly so that work on the projects can be sped up to meet the December 2016 deadline.  Using more than one contractor for these projects has been a discussion item at many of the street committee meetings.  This kind of collaboration among City staff, the committee of concerned citizens, and the Council gives us hope that our streets will improve and that our tax dollars will be spent wisely.  In the words of John Hannibal of the television series The A Team, “I love it when a plan comes together.”

John Hannibal (Isotech.com Photo)
John Hannibal (Isotech.com Photo)

Clarificaton:  Council member Colleen McIntyre pointed out to the editor that the final vote for the ad hoc street committee was a unanimous one (9-0).

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Takin’ It to the Streets: Addressing the Status Quo

Corpus Christi, Front Page

SPMPsignage

     “Problems are hard to see when buried in a culture of this is how we’ve always done it,”  says Andy Taubman, CC Ad Hoc Residential Street Committee chairman.  He could not stress enough how the City staff are good, decent, competent people who have been more than willing to assist the street committee.  “I believe they are trying to do the right thing.  I’ve had interactions with plenty of government people over the years, and it’s very rare when I can make a blanket statement saying that I really think most of the people are doing it for the right reasons and doing a decent job.”

     Taubman went on to say, however, that the current culture doesn’t foster accountability, importance of shared communications, or respect for innovation.  The system absolutely fosters “We’re going to do tomorrow what we did yesterday, and we’re absolutely not going to look at what we did yesterday because we may not like what we find.”

     Taubman says that this is just typical of human beings in general, so he can’t blame individual people.  “There’s a cultural problem that we have to decide as a community if we’re okay with that or not.”

     When asked if the SPMP (Street Preventative Maintenance Program) is well-run or efficient, he took a deep breath and said he thought the SPMP is an extraordinarily good idea because it requires that we take care of the streets that are in acceptable condition since the cost of reconstructing a street is enormous.  However, the program is short on funds by $5 to $10 million dollars per year, and if the City wants to take care of what it has, then they need to find that amount to do it.   “Should we scrounge to do that?  It wouldn’t be a bad place to spend money,” Taubman said.

     The residential street committee is staying out of the funding discussion at this stage of their work because “it has a way of sucking the oxygen out of the room,” he said.  Taubman points out that there really is only one source of funding.  The dollars used for any city service, whether in the form of a property tax, a fee, or an excise tax, come only from “the pockets of the citizens.”   He went on to say that it appears that other avenues of funding have not been explored because it just is not the way the status quo thinks about the problem of funding.

     “At the margin, there are some sources out there that ought to have a bigger role in the paying for things.  The RTA (Regional Transportation Authority) has a role to play here.”   (RTA current contributions to streets)

       Kirsten Crow of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times reported in April of 2015: “The agency draws funds through a 1/2-cent sales tax, which generally supports its day-to-day operations. The RTA’s sales tax allocation dropped about 8.2 percent from 2008 to 2009, but overall increased from 2004-13, from $17.7 million to $32.9 million annually, according to the comptroller.”

Andy Taubman 1     In Taubman’s  report,  “Street Methods and Standards:  Residential Streets”  (Read full document here), presented at the January 4, 2016, Corpus Christi Ad Hoc Residential Street Committee meeting, other findings were revealed:

  • Conditions leading to poor streets
  • Street standards implemented in 2013
  • Additional changes to standards and practices that might be required
  • Focus of current street programs
  • Citizen satisfaction priorities for streets
  • RQI (Ride Quality Index) vs. PCI (Pavement Condition Index)
  • Street safety
  • What a million dollars gets the City in residential streets
  • Residential road management objectives
  • Maximizing road fixed per dollar spent
  • Pot hole / small area restoration focus as strategic part of the comprehensive street plan
  • Additional important street considerations for a new residential street program
  • What City staff and committee need to do next
  • Standard costs for reconstruction, overlays, seal coats, and small area restoration

     There has been no move by the City staff to ask, “Can we ramp up since we’re not going to meet our deadlines?”  Even though the program is months behind schedule, “that question never gets asked,” said Taubman.  “A good private business asks this question all the time and would say ‘I’m hiring this contractor, this contractor, and this contractor, and we’re going to surge here and get it done because my year-one program has to be done by the end of year one.’  That doesn’t happen.”

     “If you don’t ask the question, you can’t address the problem.  Because of the way the system was constructed, when you get to that point, you couldn’t address it even if you wanted to address it because you have one IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery Indefinite Quantity) provider for that particular service.  It wasn’t like there was even the possibility of doing that.  In a new program, these are all shakedown issues.  It didn’t get addressed year two.  Now, we’re in year three.  It hasn’t been sorted out yet.”

           The committee meets through May.  Then, they will make recommendations to the City Council based on their findings.  “Even if we come up with good ideas, is there the possibility of implementation?  I don’t know.  It sure seem like it’s hard.  I don’t know where the impetus is going to come from inside the system to say ‘Wow! Now that my eyes are opened, we’re going to do it differently.’  I just don’t know where that’s going to come from.”

(This is the third in a series of articles about the work of the residential street committee.)

 

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Takin’ It to the Streets: A Highly Qualified Committee

Corpus Christi, Front Page

    

IMG_3969

     On October 27, 2015, nine dedicated citizens set sail on the CC Ad Hoc Residential Street Committee, on a seven-month voyage through oceans of engineering, accountability, and information sharing documents as they celebrate the successes of the current program, identify areas in need of improvement, and develop a plan of action for moving forward.  This is the first of a series of articles that serves to log their progress and offer information and insights into the picture that is so much bigger than the pothole at the end of the street.

     The Corpus Christi Caller lists the members as:

  • Chris Duff, 43, is a  Realtor who views the streets through the eyes of prospective residents;
  • Toby Futrell, 61, is a retired city manager from Austin who hopes to offer a different perspective on an old problem;
  • Alan Guggenheim, 65, is a civil engineer and conservative thinker with an analytical mind who seeks to develop an improved plan that is cost-effective;
  • Javier Huerta, 44, is an architect and former Planning Commission chairman who wants a cost-effective plan that achieves good results and more accountability while creating more competition among contractors;
  • Kyle Pape, 41, is an engineering consultant who offers his project management skills to help find the lowest-cost solutions to the problem of residential streets;
  • Darrell Scanlan, 50, is a chemical engineer and lifetime resident who wants to make his hometown better by offering his expertise in the areas of business and construction;
  • James Skrobarczyk, 65, is a real estate broker who specializes in real estate development, construction, and sales in the Corpus Christi, Texas area, and whose love for the area motivates him to help find an answer to the street problems;
  • Richard Stracener, 59, is a heavy machinery salesman who has called Corpus Christi home for over 50 years wants to find ways to save money while increasing the longevity of the streets;
  • Andy Taubman, 48, a real estate investor and manager serves as the chairman of the committee and hopes to create public trust in the city government by implementing his Infrastructure Committee Plan  which outlines the role of the committee and was approved by City Council on October 20, 2015.

     The committee is subject to the Open Meetings Act and meets at City Hall on the first Monday and third Wednesday of every month at 4:00 p.m. As of this writing, the committee has had five meetings, the first two being organizational in nature.  Andy Taubman was elected chairman and Javier Juerta, vice-chairman.  The committee discussed its purpose and expectations, established subcommittees, and proposed dates for presentations from each subcommittee.  An online message board was set up to keep the public informed, and an ccStreetCommittee@gmail.com account was created to accept public feedback.  Valerie Gray, Executive Director of Public Works, gave a presentation on Street Operations and the Street Improvement Plan Strategies.  Additional information was provided by Andy Leal, Interim Director of Street Operations, and Jeffrey Edmonds, Director of Engineering Services.

 

(This is the first of several articles covering the work of the residential street committee.)

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Unplugging into the Outdoors

Education, Front Page, Opinion/Editorial, Outdoors

 

    Kyle and Carson Pape“Get off the video games and go outside!”  How many times have I said that in the last 5 years?

     Even though I don’t particularly enjoy yelling about video games to the kids, I probably do it several times a week. I played my share growing up (maybe I still test a few just to make sure they are safe for the kids), but the older I get, and the more ingrained I see computers, video games, and other forms of technology take hold in our society, the more I feel moved to remove myself from it. Getting my kids involved in hunting and fishing is the way I see to unplug from all the technology we have in our lives, slow down, and inject activities that aren’t forced at the speed of a button push.

     Kids today lead extremely systematic lives with limited recess, extended school hours, increased testing, and more homework. In general, the academic expectations are higher across the board than ever before. Expectations are important, but with the volume of expectations our young ones are under these days, it’s just as important for them to decompress as it is for us. Long day at work? Meetings all day? Our kids do this day in, day out.

     Although I have absolutely no professional training, license, or work experience in child psychology (other than having 4 kids of my own), my personal opinion is that video games, computers, and other forms of like technology are responsible for the instant gratification mindset we too often see in kids. Perhaps, it could even be extended to causes of ADHD issues, as well. How do you help your children learn patience, when so much of their life revolves around an instant response at the push of a button?

     For example, how many of you have a DVR in your home? In our day, cartoons were on Saturday mornings. You didn’t wake up in time? Tough! You missed it. Miss your cartoon today? No problem!  Just pull up the DVR, and right at your fingertips are the last 17 seasons of “Pokeman” or “Sofia the First” to binge watch. Long line in a restaurant? No problem, whip out the iPhone, iPad, Galaxy tablet, etc. and play the latest version of Angry Birds or Minecraft rather than engage in anything that could possibly be construed as meaningful conversation.

     Wait a sec, what was this article about again? Oh, yeah, outdoors!

Reagan and Kyle Pape

     I started taking my kids fishing and hunting before they were two years old. Expectations were set at “fun,” which included throwing out handfuls of corn, walking through the brush looking for shed horns, going for short boat rides, catching piggy perch at the dock, then building up to more significant trips. This allowed them to go through a discovery process at their own pace. Since then, they have matured and become more capable over the years. I often get compliments about my oldest son (12 years old) being more “hardcore” when it comes to fishing than many adults! Both of my sons have taken turkey, hogs, and deer in the last couple of years, and all four of my kids have been catching fish of some sort since they were toddlers. Spending time learning about the outdoors, in an arena removed from all the technology that normally surrounds them, helps develop a strong bonding experience, allows for conversations about the world we live in, and most importantly, enables (forces?) patience.

Cameron and Kyle Pape 2

     We have sat on a hunt many times waiting for a deer to come out, and end up seeing nothing. We have spent many fishing trips catching small fish, or very few fish. These realistic experiences make the occurrence of catching a big fish or taking a nice deer even more special. It teaches them that you have to work at whatever it is in order to achieve a goal. It teaches them that things don’t always happen exactly when you want. It teaches them the circle of life, life lessons that everyone needs.

“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty….”
– Theodore Roosevelt

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“DON’T GOOGLE IT!”

Front Page, Opinion/Editorial

Google Freud

     This editorial is not meant to be a scientific inquiry into the inner workings of social phenomena. Rather than supporting my ideas with meticulously gathered scientific data, I intend to present some of my own personal observations that I expect may be mutually experienced by many. The ideas and methods by which they are presented are meant to be more in the realm of fireside chat than certifiable scientific debate.

     The inspiration for this realm of investigation traces its origins to a story shared with me by my brother-in-law regarding himself and an old childhood friend. The scene begins much like any meeting of old friends—with innumerable cold beers and jangling washers into the small hours of the night. This night saw the two discussing every topic under the sun, leaving no stone unturned, until finding themselves stumped on an obscure piece of movie trivia. Perhaps the cold, frosty beer they had been drinking all evening long inspired them, but the exact reason may perhaps be lost to antiquity as to why exactly the two men had chosen to discuss the classic Tom Cruise flick Days of Thunder. In the film, Cruise plays Cole Trickle, a hotshot NASCAR driver who is surreptitiously replaced after suffering a near fatal wreck during a showdown with his rival, Rowdy Burns. The rivals are sidelined for some time following the crash and eventually recover to find their collective spotlight has been replaced by…

     “….what was the name of the young new driver that replaces Tom Cruise…? Wasn’t it Randy Quaid or Robert Duvall? No, they were the race team owner and crew chief, respectively. Ricky Bobby? No that was the Will Ferrell spin off. I can nearly picture the actor now and it’s just on the tip of my tongue…..let’s “google” it and get to the bottom of this.”

     This familiar stumped feeling nearly gave way to the all too often .5 seconds Google search-for-the-truth until, like a hopeful beacon of light from the depths of their innermost memory bank of obscure movie knowledge, the two simultaneously spouted, “DON’T GOOGLE IT!”

     The old friends were in deep this time, and the perhaps fateful decision had been telepathically made and conjunctively agreed upon. Rather than Google the answer to this bit of obscure movie trivia, the two would put the brilliance of their collective minds to work and dig until they uncovered the name of the rival driver who replaced Cole Trickle in the 1990 film Days of Thunder.

     It is probably too often the case that the average person would find himself stricken with hysteria when placed in the previous situation—the urge to uncover the answer via quick internet search with cold and robotic efficiency vastly outweighing any desire for an intellectual crusade against technology. I would not fault someone who frequently experiences this compulsive reaction. It is almost comforting and soothing to find reassurance and reaffirmation in the touch keys and illuminated displays of one’s personal pocket computer.

sitting around

     Certain instances come to mind in which the availability of instant access to verifiable information is to one’s distinct advantage. Internet searches for household fixes and “life hacks” help keep newlyweds from unraveling at the seams in the first few years of a fledgling marriage. Serious medical conditions can also qualify and warrant an Internet search for possible diagnoses. Although I would caution those with hypochondriac tendencies as they may find themselves overwhelmed with the multitude of diagnoses and varied results a web search might yield for that peculiar rash on Johnny’s arm. I myself certainly would never have learned to play the guitar without the help of endless hours of Google searches for guitar lessons and tutorial videos (10,000 hours right?). Indeed we all certainly benefit from the availability of shared information and experience in pursuits outside the realm of the purely intellectual.

     The collection of vast information stored on the Internet is not unlike the collective unconscious made famous by the late Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung. Effectively, the Google search engine serves as a technological and physical representation of all the knowledge amassed by humankind throughout history. This information is then presented in a fashion made accessible in mere seconds to anyone plugged in to the information grid. In a way, Google is Jung’s collective unconscious made conscious. Though it is easy to see all the wonderful benefits we may enjoy from the sharing of this vast pool of human knowledge and collective experiences, after hearing of my brother-in-law’s resistance to the Google temptation, I could not help but start to notice the negative effect this availability of information has.

WiFi

     The Internet and the instant access to information it provides may possibly be the cause of some of the peculiar safety issues we see today. Texting and driving is perhaps one of the most dangerous things anyone can do on a daily basis, yet most individuals would admit to texting while driving quite often. That same compulsion to dig out your phone and find the answer to meaningless and trivial questions is not unlike the act of texting while driving. Before the invention of the Internet and Wi-Fi, correspondences could take days, weeks, or months to reach another in isolated areas. Now, some people sweat and grow mad as they look at the (…) on their smartphone screens, awaiting a reply to the text message they sent 15 seconds before.

     As people increasingly turn to technology for the answers to many of life’s questions and problems, what place will human interaction have in learning new things? And the process of trades and skills being passed on from generation to generation? Will the age-old process of master and apprentice go the way of the dinosaur and become a fossil of its former existence? Social researchers and teachers everywhere would probably agree that information passed from person-to-person persists longer in memory and is much more accessible than information gleaned from a computer screen or webpage.

     It is an interesting endeavor to fathom life before the advent of the Google search engine. I envision a world of problem solvers who would dive headfirst into the unknown. These days, it is as if no one dives blindly into a task without first consulting the Internet to see if there might be any information available to suggest an approach to the problem. Does this process of consulting the Internet handbook nullify the old adage that we learn from our mistakes? How do we even make mistakes when we peruse the experiences of thousands of others before even making an attempt? A pessimistic view of the situation might suggest that the days of figuring something out on your own are over, now replaced by our current reality in which the exact formula to solve a problem can be referenced not unlike we reference recipes in the kitchen. However, something tells me the curiosity and thirst for knowledge is not lost on all just yet.

     Russ Wheeler! It struck him like a bolt of lightning some 48 hours after that now infamous night. Russ Wheeler was the name of the driver in Days of Thunder who replaced Cole Trickle following the accident. Why he could not think of that name before still evades him to this day. The feeling that does not evade him is the satisfaction of finally recalling that name–that all it took was a little time and distance to prove to him that he did not need the help of technology to reaffirm what he knew resided deep in his memory.

Cary Elwes as Russ Wheeler in "Days of Thunder"
Cary Elwes as Russ Wheeler in “Days of Thunder”

     The irony is not lost on me that as I wrote this editorial, my Google web browser was up and running and may not have been used to reference nearly a dozen trivial facts to ensure relative accuracy. It does not spell disaster that we now live in an information age in which we can know the answer to nearly any question we might pose to the Internet. It dawned on me, while sitting at a friend’s house and listening to him ask his new “Alexi” music speaker what the weather would be like this weekend, that we are most definitely moving towards a time in which the collective information available to us on the Internet will undoubtedly continue to be woven more seamlessly into our daily lives. While it would be foolish to resist this change and be left in the dust, it certainly would not hurt to take a moment from time to time to ditch the web search and slow down.

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Takin’ It to the Streets: A Man with Questions

Corpus Christi, Front Page

Andy Taubman 4

     Voltaire said we should “Judge a man by his questions rather than his answers.”  Asking the right questions is what Andy Taubman, Ad Hoc Residential Street Infrastructure Advisory Committee chairman, sees as the main role of the group of nine citizens charged with addressing the problem of failed residential streets in Corpus Christi.   Taubman made it clear an hour and 50 minutes into the October 20 City Council Meeting that the questions he and the other committee members  have about engineering, accountability, contracting methods, and information sharing are designed to assist City staff in evaluating the existing program to identify successes and areas in need of improvement, not assign blame.

     At this meeting, Taubman’s Infrastructure Committee Plan came under fire from Mayor Martinez and Council members McIntyre, Scott, and Riojas, who were opposed to the plan and ultimately voted against it.

     Council member Lucy Rubio spoke in favor of the plan:  “What are we afraid of?  We have a group of people who want to help us get this right.” Rubio voted for the plan, as did Council members Vaughn, Garza, Magill, and Rosas.

     At the October 27 City Council Meeting, Taubman was nominated by Councilman Magill who said: “He’s got the mind and the will to actually produce something that is tangible and actionable.”

    In a November 1, 2015, Caller-Times editorial, Taubman proved Magill’s assessment when he wrote:  “Understanding the current situation is a necessary precursor for improving it.”  By posing the right questions, Taubman believes the committee can facilitate change in the existing system, and perhaps even in the existing culture.  “We started the process by looking at an existing program because you get two benefits by doing that. We get to ask: What happened in the existing program? Do we think it is efficient? Well-run? Did the money get spent right? Are we happy with it going forward in its same incarnation?”

     These questions prompted the committee to invite contractors, consultants, and outside engineers who help the City with street work to the meeting on December 1, 2015.  “We think that any problems and any solutions that exist are probably going to come from the people who are doing that work every day.  That’s why we are seeking out feedback – because the goal is not necessarily to be judged on making mistakes.  However, we will be judged on repeating or not repeating the mistakes.  We are looking at the Street Preventative Maintenance Program (SPMP) as a model for what will ultimately become the Street Reconstruction Program.”

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     At the December 16 Ad Hoc Residential Street Committee meeting, Taubman shared “A Private Business Person’s Perspective on a Governmental Process,” a 19-page report co-authored by fellow committee member, Chris Duff.   The committee concluded that the SPMP can be labeled a success because “money got spent” and “roads got fixed.”    Below is a list of some of the information included in the report:

  • An overview of the SPMP Program including current funding sources;
  • A program underfunded by $5 to $10 million per year in comparison to the natural aging of the streets;
  • The high price tag attached to ADA requirements;
  • The cost of seal-coats and overlays;
  • Possible funding sources, including RTA funds;
  • Observation that seal coat is one year behind while overlay were 23% complete at fiscal year end;
  • A method for bidding and awarding contracts that may not lead to the best value and is not small-contractor friendly;
  • A terminology used by City staff to relate information to the citizens that is confusing and rarely allows for real transparency;
  • A lack of feedback to evaluate efficiency in the City system;
  • A need for the use of technology to determine the condition of a street;
  • Staff responses to the committee’s observations and recommendations.

 

Did the committee learn anything beyond that?  In an interview from December 31, 2015, Taubman offered his thoughts on how current street maintenance practices affect the whole program:

      “The seal coat program is one year behind schedule. In two years they’re one year behind. That’s not a little miss; that’s a big miss. The reason the seal coat exists is to preserve the streets. Being behind isn’t just an inconvenience, it has a real cost. Cities don’t do a very good job of measuring opportunity costs. Everyone complains about the $100 being spent in a place somebody doesn’t like. If by not getting the seal coat work done you’ve lost a million dollars in value of the streets, nobody says anything because you can’t measure opportunity costs. If projects are managed well, there are three variables that really get managed: time, quality, and cost. Those are the three variables that get managed in a private situation. The goal is to balance the three. In a city setting time goes out the window. This discussion doesn’t happen because the three types of years (program year, fiscal year, calendar year) don’t match up. So, no one asks the question. Nobody really knows.”

     When asked if City staff has the ability to adjust that, Taubman responded:  “Excellent question. No one asks if the city can ramp things up to meet a deadline. The money is already allocated through our fees, so it isn’t a question of funding. The way they contract for these services is that they wind up in an IDIQ (Indefinite Delivery / Indefinite Quantity) with only one provider for each service. In private business, the owner will hire extra contractors and get the work done. If the question is never asked of City staff, then it can’t be addressed. And, since there’s only one provider, the question can’t be asked at all.”

     Taubman believes another question must be asked: “How and why does the money get spent?”

     “If people are concerned about how the money gets spent and why the money gets spent, then it’s important to have a street committee. I’m not convinced people care how or why the money gets spent. I think that businesses that are very well run ask this all the time,” said Taubman. “I’m not saying anything bad about City staff, but they don’t care if the question gets asked or not.  The City council members feel they need to ask the question out of a sense of duty or obligation, but do they really care if the question gets asked or not? Some do.  Some don’t.  Do the voters really care whether the question gets asked or not? I don’t get an overwhelming sense that that’s an important part of what people think about.  The paper definitely doesn’t care about the question. When you think about the role of media in society where they’re supposed to be asking the question, that’s where I say the biggest deficit in dereliction of duty happens.   Do I really think anybody cares? No. So why are we doing this? I don’t really know.”

     When asked why he is driven to lead the committee and continue to ask the question, Taubman said, “Part of why I’m doing this is because that’s not the way governments operate, but it is the way people operate.  In my experience personally and professionally, I think it’s an important thing to do.  Should we as citizens come together and ask that of government? I would otherwise in a vacuum say yes. I just don’t see any evidence that’s the way the world really works, so I don’t know.  People in their own lives and businesses do it, so come hell or high water we’re going to do this on behalf of the citizens in the context of good government.”

     Like the little boy in Han Chrisian Andersen’s “The Emperer’s New Clothes,” Taubman’s questions are opening doors, eyes, and minds to the possible need for change in the status quo.  “Is there a need or willingness for change within the current system?” Taubman asks.  Time will tell.  For now, the committee members continue to take the road less traveled by the average citizen in their quest to “get it right.”

 

(This is the second of several articles covering the work of the residential street committee.)

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