Monday, June 30, 2008

Abandoned Pools

The safety hazards of abandoned pools is becoming news fodder all around the country: from California to Michigan and Nevada to Texas. Go to Google News and google "Abandoned Pools". Story after story will come up about pools left to stagnate at abandoned homes because of record foreclosures. The two main health concerns: drowning (especially by small, curious children) and mosquito breeding. In California with increasing numbers of birds found with West Nile virus, the fear is that the disease will spread to humans because of the increased numbers of abandoned pools where mosquito populations are exploding exponentially.

The McKee Mansion has a back gate that has been removed and now sits in the stagnant unsecured pool. The open yard invites a small child to come in, play on the 2 x 4 grate or cheap black plastic covering a portion of the open, vile waters of the pool. One slip, one misstep and a young life will be lost. Can we really wait for the mandatory 30 days to give notice to the owner (an unknown bank at this posting) to do something? It's a matter of life, public health, and the love of a beautiful house and a lovely neighborhood and the respect for a man and his family who mean so much to El Paso.

Friday, June 27, 2008

The Plot Thickens at the McKee Mansion

So here's what we have learned since our report yesterday: the old McKee home at 2630 Richmond is in foreclosure which means that Dennis Deregla and Dennis Reydom now have no interest in securing, repairing and maintaining the home. We have yet to find out which bank is holding the note. Representatives of code enforcement and building inspections have gone to the home and have begun a process to see that the house is secure and the grounds cleaned-up.
The most pressing problem is the uncovered pool. It is half-full of stagnant water. A trash bin and an old gate sit as sunken booty in the deep end. It appears that someone was attempting to build a 2 by 4 grate over the pool and cover that with cheap plastic. The back gate is wide open. Imagine fixing the problem with black plastic. Along comes a young child who attempts to walk out on the grate or plastic cover. His weight sends him into the deep muck where he drowns. Let us hope that the gate is secured, the pool drained, and a solid cover put over it stat! The City is working on it and was quick to respond to neighbor's concerns yesterday.
The President of the Newman Park Neighborhood Association, Lynn Coyle, along with our representative on City Council, Mayor Pro-Tem Susie Byrd are calling for an initial meeting to see what can be done at the Mansion. Short of finding a responsible buyer, some community leaders are asking whether the home and grounds cannot become a community center and perhaps a nexus for a number of environmental, park and habitat organizations.

Focus on the mansion began when neighbor Eddie Holland heard glass breaking and went to investigate. He saw three young girls coming out of the house and recognized one. He notified police immediately.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Destruction at the McKee Mansion!

Vacant houses attract kids like ants to sugar. When I was growing up there wasn't a vacant house in the neighborhood that we were unaware of. Our favorite was a two-storey home built in 1913. Its main attraction was its cupola - a place where we could sit, survey our domain, and tell wild and fanciful stories. We were aware that our trespassing could get us into trouble but we were not fully initiated yet into all the implications of private property. We never vandalized and never picked up a rock or brick to break a window. Adrenalin and camaraderie were our only motives.

It is now heart-breaking to see the destruction going on at the old McKee mansion on Richmond Avenue - just across the street from Newman Park. This beautiful 9,000 square foot home sitting on a 22,000 square foot (1/2 acre) lot was built in 1920 by none other than Robert E. McKee, who in time would be not just the foremost builder in El Paso, but probably the nation as well. He built the Marine Hospital in San Diego, military facilities in Hawaii including the power plant at Pearl Harbor, more military facilities at the Panama Canal and Los Alamos, the Los Angeles Airport and the Air Force Academy chapel. In El Paso he is responsible for so many of the City's hospitals, bank buildings, schools and churches. He constructed the football field that bears his name at Austin High School, Southwestern Children's Home on Altura, the Natural Gas Company building (remember when the flame was blue no change was due?), the Hilton Hotel (now Plaza Hotel), and much, much more including so many beautiful homes in our Newman Park neighborhood.

McKee and his beautiful wife, Gladys Evelyn Woods were patrons of the arts and liberal philanthropists. He donated to the Museum of Art, procured a portion of the Kress collection for permanent exhibit here in El Paso, and gave generously to charities. The Robert E. and Evelyn McKee Foundation still makes generous grants to worthy recipients in the El Paso area.

Although the Mansion housed the Foundation for awhile and then became a medical rehabilitation center, it was purchased in 1987 by David and Edith Davis and subsequently sold to Dennis Deregla and Dennis Reydom. After an attempt to sell the property, it went off market and remains vacant now that Mr. Deregla and Mr. Reydom have moved elsewhere.

Since becoming vacant, the lovely plants that make-up the landscaping have either died or are near death. A swimming pool in the backyard is half full and the water is an algae green just waiting for west winds to blow mosquitoes from the Rio Grande River Valley. There is enough water in the open pool to drown a child - or even a careless adult. Windows have been broken out from the inside and outside. Even the windows of the attic are either broken or wide open - a call to pigeons to gather. The back alley gate is wide open and the home is accessed easily through an opening to the old boiler room in the basement. Three teenage girls were caught breaking windows from inside of the building just the other day. Reportedly, there is graffiti on the inside of the house and vagrants have occupied it.

I can understand the often irresistible temptation of a vacant house to any kid. I don't understand acts of destruction. I especially don't understand the blatant irresponsibility of homeowners to leave a home vacant without security and without maintenance. It may be private property but it is in a public neighborhood. It isn't just a matter of pride of ownership. It is also a matter of civic pride and civic duty and responsibility to one's neighbors. I shudder to imagine a young child becoming a drowning victim in that open pool in the backyard. Mr. Deregla and Mr. Reydom would carry that on their consciences (if they have such) for the rest of their careless lives.

The owners paid over $9,000 on taxes for the home this past December. If they could afford to buy the home and pay those taxes, they can afford a regular upkeep and security of the home even as it is vacant.

As you can tell, I'm angry. Angry, yes, at needless vandalism of a beautiful home. Angrier about the irresponsibility of owners to protect a vacant property (especially one of such historic and aesthetic value) and to maintain it so to show that they have some respect for their neighbors.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Hot Weather Safety Tips

Here's a June 16, 2008 news release from the El Paso Fire Department:

"With temperatures in the City of El Paso expected to be in the triple digits for
this week, El Paso Fire Department Officials are urging the public to take the
following safety precautions when conducting outdoor activities to avoid
becoming a victim of a heat emergency.

Dress for the heat. Wear lightweight, light colored clothing, Light colors will reflect away some of the sun's energy. It is also a good idea to wear hats or to use an umbrella. Drink plenty of water. Carry water with you and drink continuously even if you do not feel thirsty. Avoid alcohol and caffeine, which dehydrate the body. Eat small meals and eat more often. Avoid foods that are high in protein which increase
metabolic heat. Avoid using salt tablets unless directed to do so by a physician. Slow down. Avoid strenuous activity. If you must do strenuous activity take plenty of breaks in a shaded area or do it during the coolest part of the day, which is usually in the morning between 4:00 a.m. and 10:00 a.m. Stay indoors when possible.

The public is also asked to continue supporting the El Paso Fire Departments and the Extreme Weather Task Force Fan Drive. People can donate and drop off new fans at any fire station in the city. The donated fans are given to the elderly, disabled, and needy families throughout the El Paso area. Anyone needing a fan or if they know of someone who needs a fan can call 211 or 533-0998. Extreme Weather Task Force members are also asking the public to practice the Buddy system. A Buddy can be a relative, friend, or neighbor who checks up on an elderly or disabled person on a daily basis.

High-risk Groups Identified
Besides the low income and the elderly, other groups of people have been identified at high risk for heat-related illnesses. These groups include:
(1) Infants under one
year of age in homes without air conditioning.
(2) The ill and disabled.
(3) Persons taking certain prescription medications, such as diuretics, sedatives, and

Heat Emergencies
There are three types of heat emergencies you may be required to treat.

 Heat Stroke

This is the most serious type of heat emergency. It is LIFE-THREATENING and requires IMMEDIATE and AGGRESSIVE treatment!
Heat stroke occurs when the body's heat regulating mechanism fails. The body temperature rises so high that brain damage and death may result unless the body is cooled quickly.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS:The victim's skin is HOT, RED and usually DRY. Pupils are very small. The body temperature is VERY HIGH, sometimes as high as 105 degrees.
FIRST AID:Remember, Heat Stroke is a life-threatening emergency and requires prompt action! Summon professional help. Get the victim into a cool place.
COOL THE VICTIM AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE IN ANY MANNER POSSIBLE! Place the victim into a bathtub of cool water, wrap in wet sheets, and place in an air-conditioned room. Do not give victim anything by mouth. Treat for shock.

 Heat Exhaustion

Heat exhaustion is less dangerous than heat stroke. It is caused by fluid loss, which in turn causes blood flow to decrease in vital organs, resulting in a form of shock.
SIGNS AND SYMPTOMS:COOL, PALE AND MOIST skin, heavy sweating, dilated pupils (wide), headache, nausea, dizziness and vomiting. Body temperature will be near normal.
FIRST AID:Get the victim out of the heat and into a cool place. Place in the shock position, lying on the back with feet raised. Remove or loosen clothing. Cool by fanning or applying cold packs or wet towels or sheets. If conscious, give water to drink every 15 minutes.

 Heat

CrampsHeat cramps are muscular pain and spasms due to heavy exertion. They
usually involve the abdominal muscles or legs. It is generally thought this condition is caused by loss of water and salt through sweating.
FIRST AID:Get victim to a cool place. If they can tolerate it, give one-half glass of
water every 15 minutes. Heat cramps can usually be avoided by increasing fluid
intake when active in hot weather. "

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Senseless Tagging

It's gone now. Street Services came and removed this graffiti and that across the street. The police came by before and took pictures. There is a stain on the sidewalk in front of the stonewall. The purple paint left a bluish-gray shadow in the runoff from the blast of the jets that removed the vandal's mark.
Tagging is so senseless. This particular act of vandalism across from our beloved Newman Park aroused anger and a sense of urgency to do something - whatever that something was. For me, it was just alerting police and the anti-graffiti people at the City.
The police told neighbors that this kind of tagging goes on between 2 and 5 in the morning. Who wants to do a neighborhood watch then? In exchanges of emails I asked whether the police could add some extra patrols. No response has come from our City's finest.

This corner is well lit at night by strong street lights. However, the illumination offered no deterrent. We could organize a neighborhood watch - but there is already one in place. It's hard to have vigilance when most of us except for a few restless souls are asleep. Even the restless ones toss and turn in bed or watch the blue tube glow.

Neighbors do care and do watch out for each other. One of our neighbors was recently visited by her schizophrenic sister. The sister went out for cigarettes and walked down the middle of the street thinking that she was taking pictures. Having no camera was an unimportant detail to her. Within minutes, firemen, an ambulance and the police were on the scene. Neighbors had paid attention, cared and called emergency services. There is no lack of caring especially in this neighborhood.

So what can be done about tagging? Call the police. Get Street Services to remove it ASAP after the police have made their report. Don't let any tagging linger. Don't give taggers or gangs of taggers any footholds. Stay vigilant when we can. Care. Really care for each other and the homes of each other and the neighborhood where we all live.
If there are other suggestions, I'd like to hear it.