Dave

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Saturday, April 5, 2008

Priorities Report: This Year, I Learned A Lot...

So it was just about a year ago that I began this little endeavor to take note of the things I encounter as I live in my neighborhood and in San Antonio. I enjoy life in Texas and I think that if you give it a fair shot, you’d enjoy living in San Antonio. So to those of you who have stumbled upon this blog from somewhere else and come back for more even if you don’t live here, thanks. We can still be neighbors, just from a distance.

During about the same time that I started SilverCreek78250, my wife and I made the decision to take a greater interest in our neighborhood association. In addition to attending Board meetings, we got involved in the Neighborhood Watch program. So in the last year, I have gotten at least a partial understanding of things, I think, and for the most part, I have tried to use this blog – in-between frequent reports of trips and lunches and dinners and such – to inform local residents about the happenings within the association. So if you can indulge me for a few pages, I’d like to address something of a local nature that doesn’t involve food or goofy looking people I encounter. I won’t be offended if you hit the back button now, but if you are a reader from within the Great Northwest, I hope you can take a few minutes for this.

Over the last year, I have attempted to gain a greater understanding of the inner workings of the Great Northwest Community Improvement Association, the personalities that make up the board of directors, the residents who volunteer their time and labor to make our association better and the staff that keep it all together. What I have found generally is that almost without exception, the people I encounter are motivated toward a common goal of making the seven neighborhoods that make up the Great Northwest, a better place to live. And that is a good thing, don’t you agree?

Sadly, I have also learned that a great majority of the people who live in the GNW simply don’t care to get involved in anything that goes beyond the boundaries of their homes. I confess, I’ve been there; life is hectic, there are only so many hours in a day and as long as my neighbors weren’t painting their homes bright pink or neon green, I was pretty satisfied that my assessment was being well-spent and happy to leave it up to the staff and those faceless people who ran the board.

When my wife and I started attending the board meetings and the neighborhood watch meetings, we began to see something very interesting. It is incredible how a small number of residents give of themselves so much for the betterment of the community. And these are not simply retired people with too much free time on their hands (as I might have said at one time or another). Most have full time jobs, and other activities that they somehow juggle while putting in unbelievable hours in meetings and consulting staff.

To their credit, the board goes through stacks of paperwork generated by the community manager and his staff so they can understand the needs of the various departments; recreation, maintenance, security, DRACO, and then through voting, guide the staff on matters that need approval. Aside from common sense, they have to consider the covenants, deed restrictions and the bylaws adopted by the previous boards dating back to the founding of the GNW Community Improvement Association back in the mid 1970’s.

Each year, the sitting board can propose changes to the bylaws and in fact, this year there are several changes being voted on in May. But what does it take to change the covenants and deed restrictions that were established in 1976? The answer my friends, is you. Or at least 75 percent of you.

In the neighborhoods that make up the GNW, there are approximately 5,000 homes. With one vote per home, it would take 3,750 homeowners to agree to approve a change. And that means that all 3,750 of those people agree to whatever the change is. If the board wanted to give away free $100 dollar bills, we couldn’t get 3,750 residents to show up to vote, much less agree on it. So in effect, we are stuck in 1976 with the ideas and deed restrictions that seemed like a pretty good idea back then.

As our original neighborhoods have grown older and newer neighborhoods have sprung-up, we see quite a few changes in attitudes, how people live their lives, and how people want to use their homes. I think 32 years later, we can all agree that we want to live in a neighborhood where yards are mowed, junk vehicles are not up on blocks in the middle of the yard, people don’t make additions to their homes that look like a clubhouse pieced together by the Little Rascals. Can I get 3,750 head nods on that? But what of new types of construction innovations that we hadn’t thought of in 1976, or taking into account the age and lifestyle changes that have taken place since some of the original families moved into the Great Northwest?

A simple drive down my street will reveal that nobody uses the two car garage for actual car parking anymore. Many of the garages are used as storage or have been converted into to family rooms. Today’s larger SUV’s and trucks simply won’t fit into my garage. We have a deed restriction that will not allow you to park a small travel trailer in your driveway, yet you can park a full-sized passenger van (which is nearly the same size) without concern. From what I gather, this deed restriction was put in place to keep people from having RV’s used as homes. As a guy driving down the street looking at homes, I don’t see an RV trailer as detracting from the neighborhood in the same way I see a boat covered with one of those cheap blue tarps, yet, the boat with the cheap blue tarp is welcome according to our deed restrictions.

Have you had to replace your roof lately? It isn’t cheap. Recent innovations in technique and modern architectural design have made the metal roof design a one-time investment. Unfortunately, this technique isn’t acceptable as part of our deed restrictions. You can approach the architectural control committee, but I understand recent requests for this design have been denied. I’m sure there are not 3,750 of us ready to go out and buy new metal roofs this week, but doesn’t it stand to reason that after 32 years, we could use a little change?

Consider newer environmentally friendly methods of construction. Did you know that unless your home is made of plastic (which would be a violation), you cannot use one of those new recycled plastic out buildings or any of the new fencing materials available – since fences visible to the street must be made of either wood or masonry and outbuildings (storage sheds) must match the design and color of the existing home.

I’m sure there are any number of other things that you can see needing minor tweaking or outright elimination, but the sad fact is, based on the turn out at board meetings I have attended, I don’t see 3,750 of us agreeing on, much less voting on anything.

And this leads to what I believe is a very important point, and quite possibly the point of my message. Those that bother to participate, vote-in a board to act in the best interest of the community as a whole. That elected board and the management the board puts in place, need to prioritize what precious resources we as a community have. To that end, they need to recognize that 3,750 people are not going to take the leadership needed to act in the best interests of the Great Northwest and change or modify restrictions and covenants that, had they been written today, might look dramatically different.

I am not asking the board to act in bad faith by taking action that would go against the certified restrictions, but I am asking them to use their authority to act and to not act as necessary to reflect the real needs of the community.

Today, there is only one single issue that has more of an impact on the residents of the seven neighborhoods that make up the Great Northwest. It is not travel trailers in driveways, it isn’t basketball hoops on sidewalks, and it isn’t trash cans left in the front yard. The single biggest detractor to the value of my home, and your home, and every home in this neighborhood is Graffiti. Make no mistake.

Ask yourself this: If you wanted to purchase the house you live in right this minute, would the fact that your association has tennis courts have more of an impact on your decision to buy or not to buy, than if you drove down Timber Path road and saw an entire city park and an entire church covered by tags left by apparent gang members?

Think about it for a moment, and I’ll sit here and restring my tennis racket while you do it. Oh, that’s right; I don’t have a tennis racket.

Friends, while our security staff is out writing deed restriction violation tickets to residents for a travel trailers in the driveway, our parks are being vandalized and taggers are leaving gang signals along the fences of our main thoroughfare through the Great Northwest. My complaint is not with our staff, it is with the board and the management that won’t put priorities where they need to be.

I fully understand that much of the graffiti (or tagging as it should be properly called) happens on property outside of the association boundaries. But that doesn’t raise my house value or make me any happier about it. And, clearly, the people tagging outside of our association are just as active tagging within our area. So if we can put a stop to it on either side of the jurisdiction line, everyone benefits.

The board is in the process of purchasing security systems for the common areas – this may help. But why not spend a small amount of these funds on purchasing some mobile camera systems that can be moved from place to place to catch these taggers in the areas along the hardest hit portions of our association – along Timber Path and Timberwilde Roads? The board needs to work with residents along the prime target areas and one way or another get all the fences painted a uniform natural color that can be easily painted over with matching paint immediately after it has been tagged.

The board should adjust the duties of all staff personnel to include “painter”. Everyone from security to maintenance to recreation should be able to pitch in to help volunteers paint over the tagged areas as soon as possible. The sooner it is covered, the more likely the taggers will give up.

Seriously, before I see a single ticket given out to a resident for a trailer in the driveway, I want to be able to invite a friend or relative to my home knowing that they won’t have to drive through a path of privacy fences covered in vulgarity and unintelligible gang signs.

Honestly, is that asking too much?

If you'd like to become a member of the GNWatch, or join the A-Team, a group of volunteers to help make the GNW better, please, check out the GNW Web Page, or feel free to e-mail me.

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San Antonio, TX, United States
I love to observe the odd things happening around me as I go about my day. I especially like it when I can get a picture of people being themselves. Here, I attempt to report the various people and events I have encountered in my neighborhood, and my city. I'd also love to hear from you. Feel free to e-mail your experiences and photos of life in San Antonio.

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