Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Thanksgiving!

It's about time that I share this story, and there's no better week than this one.  It's a childhood story about what this holiday means to me....

I remember it wasn't long after learning all about the Thanksgiving holiday's origins (the kindergarten version, where Squanto teaches Pilgrims how to grow corn, so they teach his people how to blow their whole harvest on one meal), that I started thinking about the meaning of Thanksgiving.

My mom, my brother and I were on our way to my grandparents' house for dinner one year and, since my mom hates driving on the freeway (there was basically only one back then), we took surface streets through town.  Along the way from our home in Tempe to her parents' home in the Biltmore/Madison area of Phoenix, we always had an interesting drive -- I paid keen attention to all the sites along the way, from colorful businesses with exciting signage to a wide swath of different residential areas that boasted just about every socioeconomic class represented in Phoenix at the time.

I didn't fully appreciate the variety of sights that comprised this semi-urban landscape at the time, but I suddenly became aware of an important societal issue on this particular drive.  It was that of poverty in an otherwise plentiful world -- the only world I knew.  Sure my parents faced financial difficulties from time to time, but I somehow never felt that we were in need of anything we didn't have: there was always food on the tables -- copious amounts for the holidays -- as well as a roof over our heads and everything else that made for an otherwise comfortable childhood.  This was the world I knew, where I could grow up to do anything I wanted as long as it bettered society, and I would be justly rewarded for it (becoming president didn't sound so bad, for instance).  And this optimism was all largely thanks to those original Pilgrims and Native Americans who figured out how to make for a plentiful life to benefit all of posterity in our great country.

On this day, however, I noticed an adult man walking slowly along the sidewalk who stuck out for one reason alone: he didn't look like he was part of my world that day, although this seemed impossible to me.  Just as when I'm headed to a big festival or sporting event (or going to the polls on election day), I can't help but feel like we're all unified with a singular purpose on days like Thanksgiving; we're all the same.  We're all celebrating our good fortune, whether it's thanking God for all that has been bestowed upon us or just being grateful to reap what we've sown through our hard work the rest of the year.  Yet this sole stranger -- I can still picture him vividly -- did not look as content and joyful as I felt he deserved.  He clutched a bagged loaf of Wonder Bread in his arms, pulling out slices of this convenience-store nutriment to sate his hunger as he slowly meandered along the roadside.

To see a sad, lonely, and hungry face on Thanksgiving was thoroughly jolting to me.  It brought tears to my eyes as I pondered why he was eating white bread (which I knew even then was a substandard form of sustenance), rather than enjoying a nice Thanksgiving feast with his family or neighbors.  In fact, it brings tears to my eyes now just to recall the memory -- even as a slightly more cynical and world wary adult.  I knew then as I know now, that this man must not have had much choice about how to spend his Thanksgiving.  He was likely homeless and alone, or so I concluded, and no one had invited him to dinner on this most joyous and wonderful of days to eat a bountiful meal and celebrate with loved ones.

The rest of the memory is slightly blurred.... I'm pretty sure that I tried to hide my tears at all costs, but then I'm equally certain that I begged my mom to turn around and invite the stranger to come with us.  After all, if we knew we'd have leftovers (there were always leftovers after these big meals), then why not make an extra plate for our fellow man -- it would make us all feel better and seemed so easy.  Now, please understand that my mom would have been crazy to pick up a total stranger when driving alone with two small children, and as an adult I would call that good parenting, so I'm sure this was difficult for her.   If you know my family, then I'm sure you understand why I felt so strongly about helping someone in need -- this is who we are.

To this day, I remember that one occasion when I did not reach out a helping hand even though I knew I should have.  I'm sure there were plenty of other such days when I could have done more to help someone, but I need only recall this memory to appreciate the ultimate power of empathy and the satisfaction or guilt that accompanies my choices in the face of others' adversity.  Empathy, I believe, is the most universal currency we have and it's the foundation upon which our society is built (look up Jeremy Rifkin for a wonderful perspective on this branch of philosophy).

So this Thanksgiving and every one hereafter, I give thanks not only for the usual things -- good health, fortune, family, and friends -- but also for the great showing of empathy that gave way to our first American Thanksgiving holiday and laid the groundwork for us to adapt and thrive here.  As a token of my gratitude, I aspire to follow in Squanto's footsteps; following my own vision while also helping others who may be different from myself, because it's the right thing to do.  After all, we're all in this together and we've seen what can be achieved just by being there to help those in need.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Call for Candidates

If you are running for public office, either statewide or in a district that includes Laveen, I'd love to interview you via email and post our interview to this blog.  Please reach out to me at ptbrennan @ gmail (dot ) com if interested.


Monday, October 4, 2010

Retail Update -- Interim Post

It would be premature to shout from the rooftops that retail growth is turning positive again for Laveen, but it sure feels that way, doesn't it? I'm positive that I'll be complaining about the ridiculous wait for a treadmill soon enough..... Also, it looks like the Phoenix metro retail market is starting to grow in ways more favorable to us. Please see the following article from AzCentral:

Developers, retailers focusing on infill areas

My prediction..... as soon as we can better quantify the Laveen market's demographics -- and this day is rapidly approaching -- the shopping center owners/managers can let the floodgates loose for new growth. Of greatest interest to me is dining -- we need more sit-down restaurants. I feel quite confident that this is a huge area of opportunity for our community.

Finally, it's worth noting that I've had many positive discussions with people who can help get us where we want to be. One anonymous source: "Laveen has weathered the recession better than most local communities, and it's time that we revise our outlook" (a little background: I attended a less than encouraging meeting a couple of years ago with the very professionals who should have shown more interest in our community back then). The tides are indeed turning, and people are beginning to notice us more than ever. So please, hang in there, and continue patronizing Laveen and South Mountain area businesses. Our best hope for new services is to encourage those who have already found success here and are looking to grow.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Further Notes on Retail

Please take a look at this post I just completed for my other, more professional, blog.  It relates to an upcoming article I'm writing about our wonderful new transit stop planned for Laveen (hint: I'm being slightly sarcastic).

Sunday, August 22, 2010

On Civility

It's really quite amazing when you think about all of the various community groups we have in Laveen and the fact that it actually feels like a community.  Neighbors tend to know each other, we all tend to share a concern about what happens around us, and from my experience I'd say we're pretty good people as a whole.  However, there are certainly times when I wish that we would remind ourselves of these positive attributes and use them to promote better resolutions to our trivial day-to-day problems.

I feel compelled to share a story that made me laugh last week, although I was actually quite disappointed by the lost opportunity for community members to work together.  I'm sure that by blogging about this encounter, I risk further irritating an already stressed individual who shall remain anonymous; but hopefully she'll understand that my intent here is positive...... And so, with that preface out of the way, I'll add that this is a person who I looked forward to meeting eventually so that I could compliment her well kept front yard and hopefully inquire about her landscaping choices and trade notes.  But our first meeting was anything but this kind of neighborly exchange.  Here's how it actually went down....

As I walked up to our daycare provider's home to pick up my son one day last week, I caught a glimpse of the neighbor storming out of her garage to "greet" me.  Almost as soon as I saw her, I was surprised to hear a rather angry tone as she yelled, "Stay off my property!"  Surely, there's a misunderstanding, right?  I may have noticed her front yard on the many occasions that I've driven by her house, but did not recall ever setting foot on her property.  This concerned me -- I'm really not accustomed to people approaching me in such a way, so my assumption in this case was either that there was a misunderstanding or she's simply crazy.  As it turns out, there may have been a little of both at play.

I may have smirked a tiny bit with discomfort as I said it, but I replied genuinely that I hadn't been on her property and would never trespass onto her property.  She must have me mistaken with someone else, I said.  To this, she snarled back at me, "I see you turn around in my driveway every day because I'm sitting in my office right there!"  Now, I realized that we aren't even on the same page.  I have in fact made a u-turn in front of her residence a few dozen times, this afternoon included; but I didn't exactly cross over her property line, even if I may have driven up the curb.... at least I didn't think so.  This is the point in a stressful situation when my analytical mindset often gets me in trouble.  I felt duty bound to explain the technicalities of property lines and public easements (thankfully she didn't give me a chance to get into the deeper technical issue of roads/sidewalks as possibly being both private and public at the same time, which was not really relevant anyhow).  But before I could even properly defend myself and explain that this person was wrong, she informed me that she would call the police next time and she stomped back into her cave garage (oops).

Here's my main problem with this whole scenario: Obviously, this person was just as eager to meet me as I was to meet her, although we had very different intentions.  I had built up my expectations to what would hopefully be a pleasant exchange, as I've come to expect from other random encounters with fellow Laveen residents.  She, on the other hand, had obviously been building up enough resentment to finally go yell at a total stranger, and she finally found the opportunity.  The problem with the actual encounter, from my point of view, is that it literally crushed a good deal of my desire to send good vibes toward this home and homeowner (plus, I learned to doubt that there were ever any good vibes headed my way).  Instead, I was faced with a battle between my ego (which is almost always up for a good argument), my inner adolescent (wearing a devil costume on my shoulder, it said "hey, let's go get a carton of eggs. Hehehe"), and the optimist in me (thinking "wow! This person really cares about her neighborhood").  Don't worry, I've long since learned to ignore the inner adolescent, but I can't say that I've completely settled the dilemma between the other two forces.

If I weren't as concerned and thoughtful about this encounter, however, this woman's behavior would merely be an invitation for passive aggressive retribution on a constant basis.  I can only imagine how many kids she yells at who then return the favor with TP and/or eggs (they still do that, right?); or how many other parents like myself would respond by letting off a little steam every day with an extra slo-mo turn in front of her house.  I'm not condoning this kind of incivility, but let's face it -- it happens.

So in an effort to create a win-win situation, I propose that this woman and I each step back a few paces and consider what it is about ourselves that created this encounter, versus another.  Think about all the positives that could have arisen from a meeting of our minds: I could improve my own landscaping thanks to her tips, which would then create an ever-so-slight improvement to the community as a whole (ok, that may be a stretch, but perhaps I could offer some advice in exchange); or, even more importantly, it's a chance for three vigilant community members (her, the daycare provider, and me) to get together and discuss what we're seeing around the neighborhood.  In any event, we could have created more empathy, which is like gold on a social currency scale.  Seriously, if this woman were not so high strung, I couldn't imagine a better block than one with a home daycare provider and someone who works from home, both keeping an eye on things.  If we could sit down and discuss best practices for an active daytime blockwatch, this could be excellent information to spread to the rest of the community.  But this requires a meeting of the minds and a civil discussion.

I really hope that she reads this blog so that next time we run into each other I'll have already safely communicated my desire to make peace, and we can cast aside any need to argue the finer details.  As a peace offering, I'll even promise to make my u-turns before or after her property to ease her concerns about tire marks or whatever the issue is.  But I urge everyone else to try harder to approach any such situation with a more open mind -- I know that I'm still frequently reminded of this, as I make my own mistakes in dealing with people.  But I really do strive to coast along and make everyone happier and better off for having met me.  It's just my nature.

And as the optimist should always win over the ego, I'll end with this silver lining:  Regardless of whether I ever get to speak to this person again, I'm pleased to know that there's yet another set of eyes on our daycare provider's property.  I just hope that this person has some sense of gratitude to match.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Laveen Retail Activity Heating Up!!!

Here's what we know:  Scooptacular has opened in the old Cold Stone location near Fry's and Starbuck's.  The bonus here is that this is a Laveen family-owned homemade ice cream shop.  From what I've heard about their soft opening yesterday (or is it a soft serve opening), they are amazing!  And judging by friends' facebook status updates, it's worth taking more than one trip per day.  I kid you not.  Just go to the Laveen page (linked on the right) and see what people are saying.  If only I were an ice cream fan....

L.A. Fitness is finally finishing construction at the SW corner of Baseline/51st Avenue.  The company's targeted construction schedule is nine months, which I think would put them at an early fall 2010 opening.  This is exciting for most of us, not to mention a great sign of the times for Laveen.  L.A. Fitness is usually quite picky when it comes to evaluating market demand.  And if only you knew all the issues that could have killed this deal....  You've got to hand it to Terrazona for making this happen.  (Speaking of Terrazona, please stay tuned for further updates.)

You've probably seen the signs for Goodwill and Mi Pueblo Supermercado in the old Mervyn's building at Southern/35th Avenue.  Both are confirmed as future tenants in the otherwise mostly empty space.  Also, I learned today that a Pizza Patron is expected to move into the small strip of stores closest to the corner (end cap near US Bank).  And then I had to dig a little deeper for info about a yet unfamiliar concept, dd's Discounts, which is planning to build their store adjacent to the Goodwill.

Last but not least, let's go back to Baseline/51st Avenue.  The Safeway shopping center will soon be full, according to the owners, Evergreen.  TheraPro and Stewart Chiropractic have both committed to occupying the inline spaces in the 'elbow' of the shopping center, and the word on the streets is that a financial services company is eying the space as well -- again, a great indicator of Laveen's economic vitality, I can hardly wait to share further details.  And didn't I say that the space was nearly full?  Yes, how about the end cap.....

As you all know, we were expecting a Denny's to move into the end cap location (near Sonic), but the Denny's franchisee decided not to move forward on the deal.  Logically, I thought this was perhaps an opportunity to get something nicer than Denny's -- it's a great restaurant site, after all -- but there just isn't much opportunity for a restaurant in that location at the moment.  This is for a variety of reasons that I will cover later.  But for now, let's just be glad that the space is being considered primarily as a dentist's office, and secondarily as a potential restaurant location......  That's right, there is a potential restaurant user still considering this location, although I cannot share the details.  Soon, my friends... Soon.  In the mean time, please accept my apology for slacking on the retail updates and know to expect much more going forward.

P.S.  If this kind of subject matter is particularly interesting to you, what would you say to a quick Saturday morning retail workshop in the next few months?  I bet we could get several of our property owners/managers together to discuss things like space requirements, demographics, investment considerations, location, location, location, and other related subjects.  Anyone in?  If so, I'll start putting something together.  And if you think you even might have a bit of an entrepreneurial bug, we could perhaps expand the scope to be a small business workshop....  You game?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Home Ownership and Community Development

After posting this article to my other blog, I wondered how we might apply the discussion to Laveen.  I think that homeowners' intent to stay put can be a powerful mechanism to creating a more vibrant community -- especially when looking at residential regions lacking in a strong daytime population, such as ours (nearby, yes, but not exactly in our village).  There was an article recently, in the Las Vegas Sun, which highlighted the fact that 40% of the Las Vegas area's residents want to move out of the area, and the housing numbers don't appear to demonstrate that there are many people willing to replace that kind of exodus of residents.

Anecdotally, it seems that we're in a much better position than the likes of Las Vegas (and even other areas of Phoenix), having recently voted to grant our school districts an override (investing in our future) and judging by the relative stability of our housing market at the moment -- not to mention the renewed interest in retail and a few other green shoots.  But I would love to challenge this assumption with a survey.... maybe on the Laveen group's facebook page?  Also, what are your thoughts?  Please comment.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

More on the Housing Market

In case anyone doesn't already follow my other blog, Western Development News, I just posted a new article that applies in Laveen as much as anywhere.  It is quite maturely titled, "Seriously?  Still Talking Trash about the Phoenix Housing Market?  Get Over It Already:"

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Interesting Criticism on the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway

While I obviously disagree with his overall stance on the subject, I can at least take a little pride in helping push Jon Talton to discuss the Loop 202 from his well-informed perspective:  I'll restrain from elaborating much on my comments here, since I already posted them on his article's comments section (and have written ad nauseum on the topic already), but this is a worthy dialog for us as Laveen residents and for others impacted by the proposed freeway.  After all, it makes sense that fellow Phoenicians might see this as yet another unnecessary freeway for most -- it's our job to convince them otherwise.  While I hope to have sufficiently addressed these claims, I'd love to know what others think.

***And btw, I've mentioned him before on this blog, but just to be thorough I highly recommend that you follow Mr. Talton's "Phoenix 101" series of articles.  I first discovered his AZ Republic business columns in 2005, shortly before he was ousted for his controversial views [at least, that's how I understand it].  His move to Seattle since then would have been a much greater loss, were it not for his continued impassioned blogging about Phoenix as the "Rogue Columnist."

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

City Budget Hearings

I just returned from the city budget meeting at the Burton Barr Library.  It looks to me as though people are generally unconcerned about the food tax, and instead focusing on the somewhat false dichotomy proposed by the city: either pay the food tax or see further reduction of emergency response services, which are already stressed to maintain adequate staffing levels.

I think there must be other alternatives.  Please visit and see where the cuts are currently proposed.  Also, please join my plea in asking for a more transparent system that allows residents to view the city manager's complete budget.  If this is made possible, perhaps we can make more informed recommendations without needing to say yes or no to police officers, depending on whether or not we want a food tax.

There were a few great ideas presented tonight, including one person who suggested we could consider a targeted food tax on junk food items, and then some guy in a mask talking about the Federal Reserve (???).  Please bring your thoughtful suggestions to the meeting next week at Cesar Chavez H.S.

Friday, February 12, 2010

An Important Note About Mortgage Defaults

Yes, it is a powerful force in our market -- particularly in a community like Laveen, where we have grown so rapidly in the last five years, and then seen our property values decline due to foreclosures and short sales.  Those housing bubble years are having a devastating impact on our home values, as has been officially reported by the Maricopa County Assessor.

But another debate has also arisen out of this situation, and that is whether it is acceptable to strategically default on a home loan that you could otherwise afford but choose not to any longer.  Recently, a UA law professor wrote a paper titled "Underwater and Not Walking Away: Shame, Fear and the Social Management of the Housing Crisis," which raised the question of why more Americans are not behaving in their rightful economic best interests.

I find this debate absolutely fascinating, and furthermore see it as the necessary dialog that can foment a true recovery,  not just reestablishing growth but also promoting the right kinds of value-creating behavior for a sustainable economy.  That's why I've started cataloging my various discussions on the matter over at my other oft neglected blog.  Please click the link and let me know your thoughts on the matter.  There's some great stuff there, including links to the Motley Fool's compelling coverage, along with that of ABC News and our own AZ Republic.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Flood Concerns for Laveen?

Here's the deal; I'm probably being paranoid about this, I know..... I worry about Laveen's preparedness for the amount of flooding that could occur this week. Yes, we have the LACC (Laveen Area Conveyance Channel) and other flood retention measures in place, but what about the amount of water that our soil and flood retention basins accumulated already this week; and what about potential bottlenecks on street drainage systems or potentially defective retention measures (which we have already seen here during past storms) among all the other things that could go wrong?

Remember, most of Laveen sits on relatively low ground, and within the typical floodplain of the Salt River, not to mention the Tres Rios confluence just west of us. This is why our county and city officials took the initiative to complete the LACC project and others like it in recent history, as Laveen's population has boomed. Just ask any long-time resident to hear some interesting stories of past flooding.

Further, we may or may not experience unprecedented levels of rainfall in the next 48 hours, combined with rising river levels due to rapid snow melt in the high country.  And I have not been able to find much specific advice for our community, which is a little frustrating....  After all, the storm a couple of weeks ago brought the gutter run-off above the sidewalk in front of my house, and last year I recall watching our water retention basin nearly fill up from a less severe storm.

So to ease all our minds, I offer the following resources:
***Bonus recommendation in case there are no sandbags at the free pick-up locations referenced above: Try Home Depot or Lowe's.  If that fails (like finding anything else in Laveen at the moment that we all need it, i.e. propane cylinders on July 4th), then I bet you could justify borrowing some sand from a nearby playground and returning it after the flood recedes.  And by the way, medium trash bags work at least as well as the big burlap ones; you just need more of them.

Please feel free to pass along this information to anyone who you think may need it, or feel free to keep it around as a resource for the next hundred or so years, in anticipation of an eventual 100-year flood (it's not really like nature is on a schedule.... here's a definition of a 100-year flood).  In the likely event that this information is totally irrelevant, then I simply request that you understand how much I love to geek out on information and preparedness.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Phoenix Drinking Water

There's never been a better reason to discard that expensive and environmentally insensitive bottled water habit that I know most of my friends suffer. Sure our water doesn't taste as good as several places I've visited on the east coast and elsewhere, surprisingly including none other than dirty ol' NYC, but it's pretty darn good.

I'm happy to say that Phoenix Municipal water meets and exceeds all regulatory requirements -- at least as far as I could discern from the recent EWG report. Add to that the fact that we use a Brita filter in my home and Phoenix is working diligently to address the remaining aesthetic concerns, and I'm even more pleased (despite recent memory of several ground well failures). How do I know this? Here's a link to the EWG report:

And then there's the page:

Frankly, I thought that the City of Phoenix's water department was quite straightforward in addressing my most basic concerns. It would be even more refreshing if we dedicated resources to demonstrating greater leadership in water resource management, being that we're in a desert and all..... but then there's the whole funding issue, not to mention the fact that we're not usually regarded as the most progressive place on earth. But I digress.

AZ isn't totally off the hook for water safety. I was surprised to learn coincidentally that the Granite Dells area near Prescott is listed alongside Verde Valley, Tucson, and Cave Creek as hot spots for natural radon contamination (but not Laveen as far as I know). This is good news for me, since I harbor fond memories of playing around in the Dells area as a child, and would like my son to see the area in nearly as pristine a condition as the two generations of family before me could enjoy it.... not surrounded by subdivisions. But again, I digress. Read more about radon and Arizona's other environmental hazards here: And if you are an info geek like me, then I'm sure you'll enjoy browsing the rest of the AZ Geo site. No, we have no major earth fissures in Laveen that are reported. And yes, there is gold in them there hills.... maybe. There, I just saved you a bunch of time. You're welcome.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Interim Post: Update on Laveen Farmers Market

I have been laboring over an official New Years post between online poker hands and other miscellany for the last two weeks, but thought it was important to get this out in the mean time. I figure that no one can criticize me too much about a belated New Years post as long as it comes out in January, right?

So here's the latest info about the much discussed, but surprisingly nonexistent farmers market:

It's been a while since we had any news about the Laveen Farmers Market, so I thought I would provide a brief update. While I haven't had much of a chance lately to investigate potential farmers to participate, I/we have gotten some feedback from a few people we contacted.

McClendon's Select Organics, featured participants in the Scottsdale and Biltmore area farmers markets, politely declined to play a part in ours. I had a very informative yet frank conversation with the owner about their reasoning, which basically came down to the fact that farmers markets tend to get in the way of their most profitable business; selling to restaurants and other wholesale clients. He was very polite about his explanation, so I asked if he had any other ideas. No dice, but we'll keep trying.

Also, I'm not sure if this was already mentioned, but Krag Klages, our LCC president, spoke with the people at Grandma's Farm. They too declined for now, due to the fact that they are planning their own retail concept on their property (South of Baseline on 19th Avenue). This is disappointing in that they were by far our most local lead, but also exciting in that it means they're planning a considerable improvement to their existing business. We definitely need to keep them on our radar, so any help with this would be much appreciated.

Hopefully we'll have another update soon. Please also do your part if you come up with any ideas. And by the way, all ideas are worthy of consideration. Until we have a farmer or two, there is no farmers market, and thus no formal leadership. My thinking is that this is a free-for-all until we get something going, at which point we can sort it all out. Any other thoughts? Please share.