Thursday, June 29, 2006

Meet Peach!

The new addition to my little family finally has a name!
Variations on the theme:

Beach Peach
Sweet "P"

The very same day I decided on "Peach" - the French Word-A-Day mailist to which I subscribe started thusly:

une pêche (pesh) noun, feminine
1. peach
2. fishing

Il faut perdre un vairon pour pêcher* un saumon.
One must lose a minnow to catch a salmon. --Janus Gruter

*pêcher (verb) = to fish for, to catch

And I just finished a sculpture entitled "Plenty of Fish."
Is that a sign or what?

Read a "peach" of a story - and then subscribe yourself to "French Word-A-Day" right here.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Shroud of Secrecy Surrounding Sandcastle Days 2006

When you are me, you get asked about Sandcastle Days. A lot. By the tourists, by sand sculptors, and by potential volunteers and sponsors. As recently as a year ago I could answer those questions with a certain amount of confidence....

Not any more. The standing Sandcastle Days committee - of which I was a founding member - has been dissolved. All the plans are being made behind closed doors and we local experts have apparently outlived our usefulness and been told not to let those doors hit us on our way out.

Usually at this time of year I am sending out invitations to the master sculptors -- my friends and colleagues who plan their schedules 6 months in advance. This year no one's heard anything and when you go to the event website - which is the only ostensibly reliable source of info to be found (I have heard multiple reports that the Sheraton's own employees are saying the event has been cancelled) - there is a "click for 2006 masters application" -- but it is not an active link. The most recent press release is dated 12/15/05. (I was fired from doing the event website because I was slow on updates.... looks like my replacement is doing no better.)

So, if anyone out there knows anything about Sandcastle Days 2006, I sure wish you would spill the beans.

'Cause all those folks just keep asking me.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

greetings from hampton beach

I am in New Hampshire for a sandsculpture contest. Every time I visit another beach community I can't help but compare it to the one I call home....

I have a room at the Hillcrest Inn, a smallish mom & pop run operation right across the street from the beach. The waterfront here is teaming with activity. Big wide beach that is covered up with people on weekdays even though some schools don't shut down for summer break until later this week, fronted by a parking lot. (Parking lots may not be pretty, but they are functional and they don't block the waterview.) The shops and restaurants beneath my 3rd story room are thriving. I understand many of them shut down for the winter but it looks like they more than make up for it in the summer. Things are a bit old and maybe a bit trashy by some standards (no trace of a common color palette here!) but the place is really quite charming and there is lots of stuff for folks to do right here -- it sure looks like everyone is having a great time.

I think the SPI developers who say what they are doing is good for business are feeding the island merchants a line. Walls of mostly-empty condos may increase the tax base but they are not going to keep your favorite local restaurant from closing its doors. On the other hand we have residents who argue that SPI needs to be prettier to keep attracting visitors -- and I think they are feeding us a line as well. Certainly we want to keep upgrading the appearance of streets and common areas as funds allow, but businesses that cater to our guests must have plenty of latitude to present services and products in a way that will attract the visitors we have, not the visitors we wish we could have.

No one will dispute that our biggest draws are our beaches and the waters that surround us. Preserving their natural beauty and access to viewing and using them should be top priority. After that, I think we must do our best to preserve the funky beachy charm that attracted so many of us to SPI in the first place.

At last week's CPAC meeting we were asked to describe or show photos of what we considered to be quality development/construction. I chose a photo of a beach access sign/planter - simple and elegant and overflowing with native flowers that attract butterflies and birds. Clayton chose the Sapphire condos because (and I am paraphrasing here) "it will be self-contained with recreation facilities and restaurants and spa and the guests can enjoy a wonderful vacation without ever leaving the site."

Is this the future of SPI? A series of megaliths that capture and retain visitors while the shops and restaurants that reflect our community's history and culture slowly strangle? I sure hope not.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

CPAC Meeting 6/14

Last night was the second meeting of the Comprehensive Plan Committee.

The facilitators led us in a land use exercise that involved a big map of the island and bits of colored paper and tape meant to represent single family dwellings; highrise resorts, parks and recreation, etc. with which we were to layout our ideal town.

So certain factions were wiping out whole residential neighborhoods to make way for new gated communities, mounting a wall of highrises along the the length of the beach with no regard for public access and filling in wetlands for even more highrises -- while others of us tried to add a town square, more parks and lowrises in existing residential neighborhoods.

Here is one exchange:

Clayton gets into it, cheerfully sticking casinos and highrises all over the map

Me: You know, not everyone thinks that covering up the island with casinos is a good idea.
Clayton: Well too bad because it's gonna happen, sweetheart.
Me: Over my dead body.
Clayton: Be careful what you wish for.

The facilitators wanted lots of diversity on the committee and boy did they get it. I just hope they have a good strategy in mind for helping us reach some sort of consensus because from my viewpoint it looks pretty damn hopeless.

Update: Below is an e-mail I got this morning from another committee member:

RE: Last nights exercise in futility

Maybe the idea of mapping out how we would like to see SPI was good but the method was impractical. They should have provided transparent layovers and colored marking pens so that we could express our visions.

That way Clayton's World could have been one vision and Our World would not have been overshadowed and crushed.

It would have been more effective to work in segments as well.

The layovers would then show contradictions and consensus as well as providing ideas that might not have been thought of.

Also an expression of Goals: High End Beach Resort with casinos
Community Resort with low impact on surroundings that promotes Eco-tourism

It was a disappointing experience for me.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

check the odds

Today's Houston Chronicle features an article with the grim title:
It withstood destruction before, but can it weather a hurricane?South Padre: A vulnerable isle

Go ahead and
read it if you must, but let me warn you, this is not a cheery way to start your day. Sample quote:

A major storm could easily produce a 23-foot wall of water. That's something South Padre may not be able to withstand, (building director Jay) Mitchim says. ''In that situation, all bets are off."

So reading this caused me wonder -- just what are the odds, anyway?

Higher than you might think. A google search led me to this page where people who supposedly know these things posted the following table:

Probabilities for all U.S. cities experiencing hurricane-force winds
        •        New Orleans, La. 29.30 % in 2006, 12.74 % average
        •        Mobile, Ala. 22.23 % in 2006, 11.30 % average
        •        Myrtle Beach, S.C. 18.42 % in 2006, 12.12 % average
        •        Brownsville, Texas. 15.52 % in 2006, 18.06 % average
        •        Cape Hatteras, N.C. 13.84 % in 2006, 20.12 % average
        •        Savannah, Ga. 13.58 % in 2006, 10.32 % average
        •        Galveston, Texas. 13.55 % in 2006, 11.40 % average
        •        Corpus Christi, Texas. 7.93 % in 2006, 7.97 % average
        •        New York. 7.38 % in 2006, 4.36 % average
        •        Atlantic City, N.J., 6.12 % in 2006, 4.61 % average
        •        Ocean City, Md. 5.67 % in 2006, 5.69 % average
        •        Cape Cod, Mass. 2.26 % in 2006, 7.22 percent average

So why are Brownsville's odds so much higher than the rest of the Texas coast -- and double those of Corpus? It seems neither right nor fair!

Of course, these are the same nattering nabobs of negativity who tell us we are already experiencing global warming, so I guess we are free to be skeptical about just how accurate a prediction those odds are... right?

Thursday, June 08, 2006


That is the year I am likely to leave this mortal coil at the ripe old age of 90, according to

That might give me enough time to finish at least half of the projects on my to-do list...

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Isla Blanca (again)

I received the following e-mail from an Island resident.

Hola Sandy - Perhaps you have an answer...complete or otherwise...regarding the seemingly lack of interest of this important local issue. (I did vote for Alderdude BTW....yet wonder why neither he nor any others have not spoken up).

This reminds me of populace's attitude in "The Emperor's Clothes"....Everyone knows that caca is taking place...yet no one will confront the issue!

I realize you have much on your plate...but thought you might know something more than is generally known.

Took the liberty of forwarding this to Fred = "former alderdude" (you know, the dude with the guts to bring Doyle wells into a BOA meeting for an agenda item on the isla blanca park contract and proposed development so that he had the chance to publicly protest the issue from his former position as Alderman. There were legal limits on how far he could go with the discussion, but i think the point was made, and agreed to by three of the other 4 alders....)

Anyway, here is Fred's response:

Based on your email to sandy feet about what you perceive to be a 'lack of interest', i am afraid that you are out of touch with all the activity going on with regards to the proposed isla blanca park development. As you know, that part of the park is out of city limits thus limiting 'official' city action, but as citizens of the county we as individuals do have a say.
Become involved.... do what many of us are doing: attend county meetings, contact your commissioners, it is a shame you have not attended the many meetings so far to get up to speed on what is currently being done, and all the activity and lobbying that already _has been done: BOA meeting, several surf rider meetings, hearings at the county commissioners court, many letters to the editor of b-ville, harlingen, port isabel and island papers, setup meetings with the developers, etc....
As for speaking out, this issue was raised in both candidate forums and a radio talk show, and all candidates spoke in opposition. There were various levels of opposition, but all were against the hotel portion.

Hopefully you have a save isla blanca bumper sticker to state your position against private development of public property.

If you truly do want to help, start by emailing Faith at to get the date of the next surfrider meeting or event in opposition to the development. The county web site has the meeting agendas posted so that you can watch for agenda items regarding the development (though most are in executive (closed) session).


(this is lucinda again) -- and in case you aren't on the surfrider mail list - this just came in from Faith:

From: Pedro Ballesteros
Subject: Great meeting
Date: Tue, 6 Jun 2006 07:58:21 -0500

Hey everybody. Welcome to the movement. It's going to keep spreading and growing. Like an avalanche...

What a great meeting we had Sunday. Even though most of us were meeting for the first time, we made a big decision right then and there. A billboard! Now that's action. Thanks to the folks who suggested it and started up with their donations. We are looking into the cost etc. and I'll get back to ya'll about the p.o. box to which you can send donations. You will also be able to send petitions to that address.

Here's what excited me the most about our meeting. We had people from all over the Valley! We are connecting with each other at last and now we are really going to start making some noise. What we need is for everyone from Brownsville, Harlingen, McAllen, and the rest of the Valley to tell people in their communities, churches, schools, work, etc. This is a Valley issue, after all, much more than an Island issue. As the Island gets more and more crowded with buildings, there are fewer and fewer places for Valley residents to come and park and enjoy their island. This is a public park. We are the public. Let's fight for our park.

This whole movement has really been a grassroots, word-of-mouth effort. I talk to someone, and she talks to someone else and it just spreads. Letters to the editors, county judge and commissioners are a huge help. Even just coming to a meeting, putting a bumper sticker on your car or filling out a petition helps this effort to grow. Whatever small or large role you want to play in this, it will make a difference!

Here are some action ideas:
1. Media. This may mean putting together photos and info packets to take to campuses and places where we set up an information table. It can also be coming up with ideas and/or designs for public service announcements, print campaigns, etc. Petitions, bumper stickers, fliers. Maybe you know how to put together a slick ad. Whatever ideas or skills you have are valuable.

2. Fund raising/financial. Got a knack for raising money? Here's a great place to use it.

3. Legal. Some of you are skilled at studying legal documents. Or maybe you have a friend who is an attorney who would be interested in researching the legality of this issue. Maybe you saw a phone number for some organization that fights for the rights of the public. Give them a call. You never know what call or conversation will lead to something big. You could call the county judge and pester him to let us see the new contract before it is signed. Pestering county officials is always helpful. (Just don't believe anything they tell you.)

4. Political. This could be going to Cameron County Commissioners Court meetings, researching candidates to see where they stand on this park issue, or where our state reps stand on gambling issues, etc. Becoming a voter registrar so we can have campaigns to get people registered to vote AND fighting this issue. (Elections are in November.) And, once again, pestering county officials is always helpful.

A lot of this movement is just about each of us taking initiative and doing some little thing. Whatever thing you think of doing to save our park, do it. You never know how the small stuff will snowball into that avalanche.

And let's not forget to have fun! That's what we love about Isla Blanca Park. We have fun there. Heck, I had a blast at the meeting Sunday. I'd like to see us get together at the Dolphin Cove or somewhere just to hang out and enjoy that beautiful place. The more we get together and communicate, the more we get excited about this thing.

We've got three fund-raising issues to work on: bumper stickers, more petitions, and the billboard. Keep thinking, planning, and scheming. Contact me via email or phone (956)772-9828 for info, questions, ideas etc. And here are links to 3 important websites:

for the latest news check out the Island Breeze

the Cameron County Commissioners Court agenda

Thanks again, everyone, for showing up and getting involved. I can't wait to see what we all can do together.
Faith Ballesteros