Saturday, April 30, 2005

An official warning

As I've mentioned, I live in a 'Master Planned Community'. I used to own a home, now I am renting one in the same neighborhood because I needed a yard for my now deceased and best friend, my dog Copa a Basenji.

Copa died last year at the age of almost 11 of cancer. I still live in the home, but probably not for long.

A few weeks ago, I was away from home and while I was away, I received a 'friendly reminder' to get rid of the weeds in the 'enclosed area' of my property. I assumed they meant my backyard. Ironically, I do go out in the backyard and had pull the weeds, of which they never seem to go away, because its like playing a game of 'Whack A Mole'. Every other day or so, I fill up a grocery bag of weeds. Sometimes its worth letting a few grow a little bit, because they become easier to pull and the roots come up with them.

Thinking they meant my back yard, I went out, as I usually do and pulled up more weeds. It's pretty clean now, although there are more sprouting and weed killer doesn't work.

Thursday night, I went out and pulled up a few weeds on the side of my house that is covered by bushes. You can't see them unless you specifically go looking for them. On Friday, I received an 'official warning' about the weeds in the 'enclosed area'. Who knows which 'enclosed area' they are talking about. In it, it said return the 'enclosed form' (there was none) indicating compliance and I have 10 days before I get find $100.

Meanwhile, homeowners have to pay $35 a month in association dues. This money is to go the upkeep of the 'common areas' and on my walk to Starbucks, guess what I notice - weeds.

Seventy percent of all homes in Las Vegas are under the control of some form of 'Master Planned Community'. Unfortunately, many members of these Boards are frustrated Barney Fife's. Either they are retirees, who were once managers and miss the fun of bossing people around, or they never got their chance so now they are pushing their 'authority' to a level of 'irrational exuberance'.

My particular HOA, Summerlin North Homeowners Association has been in the news a few times since I've lived here. There was the veteran who tried to put a flagpole on his property, but it was rejected due to the heigh restrictions. Read the fine print before you join one. I didn't until after I bought. Did you know that flags are not to be displayed at anytime, except for the week leading up to Memorial Day or the Fourth. How would you feel, if you were a veteran who fought for this country's freedom and then told by a bunch of bureaucrats that you could not fly the flag on your own property?

Other fine print articles include: Your garage door can only be left open for entrance and exiting. So, if I am working in there, I should keep the door closed, or if I keep it open while I go for a dump, I am technically in violation of the CC&Rs. You can't leave your car in the driveway either - that's what garages are for. But there is a safety issue involved here as well. A burgler is less likely to target your home if there is a car in the driveway. No car in the driveway, he could think no one is home.

One of the most notorious acts of power going to one's head also involved Summerlin North.

We here in the West have been enduring a several year drought and the water department has threatened to cut our balls off if we waste water. Golf courses and casinos and other profit centers are exempt, of course, and the Water Authority that most of the water that gets wasted is due to watering our lawns. Summerlin wants its homeowners to have 'golf course green' lawns.

One homeowner hit on a good idea. He replaced his lawn with Astro Turf. He had to clue in his neighbors that the lawn wasn't real, but you couldn't tell. The HOA clamped down on him real hard, saying that wasn't in the CC&R's, despite the effort he was maintaining in saving water.
Two members of the board visited his home and said his lawn looked great, but only two. The homeowner was still fined after paying $2000 for the lawn. A Fox Poll should that 95% of the people supported the homeowner. He said he waould appeal to the City Council, but ultimately, he ended up moving. I could come up with other stories, but you get the picture.

I read in Parade Magazine several months ago, the HOAs are increasing at the rate of 60 per month. They argue that strict (and ridiculous) rules are needed to keep homeprices up. But one look at the red hot Real Estate market can tell you that prices will continue to go up without these 'overlords'.

We already have State Government, County Government, City Government with all their rules and regulations, do we need another level of slaveocracy? Isn't owning a house in a "Master Planned Community' just another form of condominium? Might as well move to a condominium, where you'll have plenty of 'dos and don't) but at least someone else cuts the grass.

Something more evil is happening. With all the talk of Bush's 'Ownership Society', what's really going on is the definition of 'homeowner' is being re-written and there is nothing anyone can do about it. The HOA justifies their actions by claiming that they are protecting my 'investment'. Well, I don't live in an 'investment' I live in a home. I am tired of being made to feel that I am a realcitrant child, or I am under the employ of the HOA.

I will be going out later to pull any weeds I find. I do it, to keep my property neat, besides, I don't want to get sent to bed without supper.

Hey HOA - Bite Me.

Friday, April 29, 2005

Our regular blog will be pre-empted.

I was watching Bush's press conference yesterday (hard to avoid) when he made the statement "A President who relies on polls, is like a dog chasing his tail". Who is he kidding? He wouldn't have had a press conference in the first place if it weren't for his dropping poll numbers, particularly when it comes to the price of gas. Isn't he implying that he's gonna do what he's gonna do regardless what the public wants?

When it came to gas prices, he basically said 'There is nothing I can do'. Isn't that what Jimmy Carter said back in the 70s and look what happen to him.

But there is something we can do. Republicans are loathe to talk about conservation, but America needs to cut down on the amount of oil it consumes on a day to day basis, without the need to resorting to drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

One way is to encourage (ie, arm twist) auto makers to design cars that are more energy efficient. While tax cuts for hybrids is an encouragement, its not enough. We need a national debate about ways to get Americans out of their cars and stop using them as a second home of wheels.

We could start my redesigning our cities to be more pedestrian friendly. Cities in the Northeast are better at this then cities in the Southwest, since Boston, New York and Chicago are much older than Las Vegas. We need to encourage people to use mass transportation despite the fact that it gives the middle class and upper classes the dry heaves to sit next to the poorer classes that depend on mass transportation.

Boston and New York are compact cities that are walkable and everything is relatively near by. Walking gives one a real sense of a neighborhood. You can't get that by looking out the window.
Las Vegas and Los Angeles and Phoenix are cities that were designed for the sutomobile and as a result led to uncontrolled urban sprawl. You need a car just to get to the nearest Home Depot for example. As long as there appears to be endless land, keep moving outward with the result that people in one neighborhood have little in common with someone else in another part of town.

My neighborhood does a better job of this than most. By encouraging the development of hiking trails and larger pedestrian strip malls, you are encouraging people to get out of their cars and stay awhile. But because Las Vegas is so spread out and distances are so great, Oscar Goodman, although, I'll give him a lot of credit for the attempt he hasn't encouraged me to go downtown. just yet.

One western city that is doing a better job at this is Portland, Oregon where I lived and worked for a contracting job in the mid 90's. The essentially put a rope around the city and said 'no more growth beyond this point' and they began to encourage the urban renewal of downtown. The bus system there is designed to bring the people from the outlying neighborhoods to the downtown city center. One great idea they have is a wide swath of downtown Portland is 'fare-free'. As long as you get on and off through a large section of downtown, the busses are free. I saw a large part of the city relatively cheaply. I especially liked the dim sum in the city's Chinatown.

Another good idea is to encourage, not discourage the use of AMTRAK. Republicans in Washington are notoriously against AMTRAK and mass transportation in general as they view this as a 'Northeast liberal' thing and cars represent the free wheeling spirit of the open road.

When I returned to Las Vegas in September, 2002, I had the time (and you need time to take AMTRAK) so I took the long scenic route from Boston to Las Vegas. I got a 'seat' for the Boston to Chicago leg, then a got a 'deluxe' room for the next leg, Chicago to Seattle. It was a small room that had a couch that allegedly opened to a bed for two, but I used it as a couch and slept on it that way. It also had a tiny (think airplane) bathroom with a hand held shower. Since it takes 6 days via the way I went, I couldn't go that long without a shower.

I took my trip after September 11, and no, I am not afraid to fly, but I found it curious that NO ONE asked me for a picture ID when I left Boston. I even pointed this out to the guy who took my bags and he said 'You don't look like a terrorist'. I responded, "neither did Tim McVeigh", but that's a topic for another time.

The room gave me an opportunity to see the country in a way I would not have been able to if I had flown back. A lot of the time it was dark out so you can forget about seeing anything, but I got a good view of Wisconsin (and as a result, I'd consider vacationing there). North Dakota wasn't as bleak as I expected, eastern Montana looked like what I thought North Dakota would look like, but western Montana was spectacular, what I could see of it before it got dark, but I did travel for several hours in Big Sky Country, so I want to vacation there as well. One of the pleasant by-products of the AMTRAK trip is it makes you realize that we have a beautiful country which can bring us together rather than pitting one region of the country against the other.

I arrived in Seattle and spent the day and night there. That's a city that also has a good mass transportation system. I got around the city easily despite never having been there. I visited Pike's Place Market Area, the Space Needle, had great seafood and went on a harbor cruise, when it inevitably rained. The guy at the front desk of my hotel was even named Frasier ("I'm listening"). No kidding.

The next day, I caught the train from Seattle down to LA. We were delayed by a derailment of a cargo train outside of Salem, Oregon, and even though I missed my opportunity to stay overnight in LA, I made my bus connection to Vegas. Vegas had an AMTRAK station but it was cut back due to budget restraints which to me seems odd. I'm sure there are a lot of students and elderly retirees (met a lot on the trip) from LA who would appreciate the fact that they don't have to drive 6 hours to get to the casinos. The greyhound bus was crowded and less than pleasant, but I got back home safely.

An last but not least, with the price of gas soaring, it is probably now worthwhile to encourage solar power and Southern Nevada would be a perfect place to try that since it is sunny most of the time here. But before we can get to a decent energy policy, we need to wean people away from gas guzzlers that depend on foreign and unstable oil suppliers.

Thursday, April 28, 2005

It's open!

Wynn Resorts, that is.
I didn't go down last night when I heard that they would only be allowing people in on a controlled basis, if it got full. There was already a line snaking down the Strip at 10 and it opened at 12:01 am. He opened it up today, since it is his birthday present to his wife Elaine.

Still haven't seen pictures yet, they'll be on the Today show tomorrow. But preliminary reports say it will blow you away. It has 2700 rooms (far from the largest on the Strip) and cost $2.7B, thats a cost of $1M per room. By contrast, the Mirage cost 600M 12 years ago. It has 18 restaurants, and natural light, and a championship golf course and it has a few suites with private entrances.

It has an ampitheater surrounded by a Lake, 1 million gallons. Steve Wynn loves water. He put the lake in at Bellagio and the Pirate's Cove at Treasure Island (now the TI). A new tower is already in the works for another $1.8B. Steve Wynn will have to make $3M a day just to break even!

Ironically, in a Fox Poll last night 71% of Las Vegas WONT visit during the opening weeks. Guess they don't like crowds either.

But "I'M" planning a trip down there next week. I'll get a player's card, but knowing Steve, it won't work on quarter machines.

Legend has it that Megabucks hits at new casinos...

Most people here love Steve Wynn, unlike the egomaniacal Donald Trump, whom Wynn has successfully kept out of the Las Vegas casino market. But guess who is building a high end residential complex directly across the Street - the Donald.

Don't try to book a room there, however. Rooms are running about $600 a night (bye bye family friendly Vegas) and it is booked solid till 2009.

Preliminary reports, however, are billing it as the best hotel in the world.

Its gotta be special, Steve Wynn put his name on it.

I was always a regular at Wynn properties. I used to get birthday cards and Christmas cards from them and they made it look as it was hand written. I wish the Wynns and his property the best of luck.

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

What is really going on?

According to George Bush and Alan Greenspan, the economy is on a roll. In fact, the economy is doing so well, he has hiked interest rates about 5 times this year. Just like in 2000, when he declared that there is 'irrational exuberance' and he couldn't understand why there was a stock market bubble and he needed to slow things down, so he did eventually burst the bubble. If he is such a free-marketeer, why doesn't he just leave things alone?

But I think there is a big disconnect between what the government is telling you and what is really going on in the real world.

As I mentioned, I live in a 'well-heeled' neighborhood in Northwest Las Vegas that prides itself on being a cut above the rest (read snobbish). When I first moved here, I bought my house (which I no longer own) for 112K. Now the 'average' cost of a single family home is about $150K and the 'average' two story is about $300K. According to our neighborhood magazine, the residents of Summerlin (a 'master planned' community) spend more on health care, health club memberships, clothes and other things than the rest of the city.

When I moved back to Las Vegas almost 3 years ago, I had the intention of opening a tea house, in an attempt to cash in on the health benefits of tea. First, however, I decided to observe what was going on in the neighborhood before I took the plunge.

Last year, I was a 'regular' at a neighborhood deli, operated by two long time Vegas residents, Guy and Laurie Nason. They opened a New York style deli in Tucson Plaza nearest my old home. Tucson Plaza is a drive-in strip mall, anchored by Taco Bell, Jack in the Box and Walgreens.

Guy served meals, breakfast and lunch at first, which he later made an attempt at opening for supper. He also sold deli meats and he looked the part of a New Jersey butcher ("I got your meat right here"). His store was located behind Walgreens away from the main drag, Lake Mead Boulevard. He was located a very short distance from Sun City Summerlin, a major retirement community where golf carts are allowed for transportation.

He started off well, but when the war started, the elderly stayed home to watch the bombing of Baghdad. They never came back. Guy used a strobe light to attract attention to his business, sent out coupons in the mail and even started deliveries via golf carts. He even invited Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman a forum for a meet and greet the mayor. He was closed within the year.
When he put the place up for sale, he had a few lookers but no takers. The place is closed still, after more than a year.

At the high point, he opened a second deli across the street from Sunrise Hospital that was only open for lunch. I thought he was being overly ambitious, in view of the fact that his flagship wasn't doing that well. Perhaps it was location, location, location, since although he was listed on the marquee out front, you couldn't see the store as you drove by. Although, obviously, you could easily see Taco Bell and Jack in the Box which were near the boulevard.

I also frequented Walgreens and knew a lot of the employees. Yet, I never saw them eating at the deli. I was told by a fellow diner that the employees made minimum wage and therefore could not afford to eat out everyday, so they brown bagged it. I used to see a few contruction workers, groundskeepers and cable guys eating at Taco Bell, but never at the Deli.

Aside from me, Guy's 'clientelle' included a couple of snow birds from New Hampshire (who returned up North in the Spring) and the employees from a hairdresser shop next door.

Next door to the deli was the Orchard Market. I used to go in there to play video poker, (I won about 3 Royals there) but I didn't buy much in the way of fruit because it is only me. But the Orchard Market depended on the deli, because when Guy ran out of lettuce or tomatoes, he'd send his son Chris over to buy more. Once the deli closed, so did Orchard Market. Today, it too, is still vacant.

I walk all over the neighborhood even in summer heat. I used to be a regular at the barber shop that was at the front of Tucson Plaza, but that too is gone. They claim there was not enough walkin traffic.

Since then, the developers have een buiding a group of 'condo offices' for professionals like dentists and lawyers. Since I was last there, the offices have been built, but there are no takers.

After I sold my house and moved a few blocks away, I became a 'regular' at Vons Center which is closer. Vons Center is bigger, anchored by Vons Supermarket, has a few restaurants, a bank, video store, a few other small businesses and a Starbucks. Starbucks pretty much is the closest thing to a Village Square, since you see the same people there everyday and on Sunday's you'll see entire families, elderly after church, mothers pushing baby carriages, kids on skateboards and people walking their dogs. (Dogs are welcome). It has a larger volume of foot traffic.

Nevertheless, one Sushi place that struggled (was directly next to a Chinese fast food place) and has finally closed, which will be replaced by a Ben and Jerry's. A small knick Knack shop did not survive. Benedicts, a restaurant that replaced the original Italian reataurant (which also didn't surviver) didn't make it either. Benedict's tried to position itself as an 'upscale' eatery with a weekly dinner show for $45 (cheaper than the Strip). it lasted less than a year. I went in there once or twice, but wasn't about to spend $7 for breakfast oatmeal. Across the street from Starbucks was the Black Angus, a chain of steak houses. They would advertise coupons for lunch, which I often took them up on and half off meal coupons. A filet mignon, Australian lobster tail and desert for two, $17. And that's half off. Being from New England, Australian Lobster Tails can never compete with a real lobster tail from Maine. But the Black Angus didn't survive either. I think it had a lot to do with the fact that the Rampart Casino has coupons for two for one buffets.

We had our twice yearly Art Walk at Vons Center last week. I attended the previous ones and bought one picture, a quilt and an antique bank made from real Post Office box. I was told my a few business owners that there was an increase in foot traffic, but I thought the crowds were smaller. Also, I noticed a lot few exhibitors. None of the vendors that I have bought things from in the past were there (in fact, last year, the vendor remembered me). Is this due to the high cost of gas that has kept out of state vendors from attending this year, or is it because the neighborhood residents are 'house rich, but cash poor"?

In any event, where is this expanding economy that the Administration keeps touting?

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Hello world

Welcome to The Scorched Pig, Squeals from the Desert.

About me (the short version).

My name is Paul and I make my home in the Northwest part of the Las Vegas Valley. Originally born in New England, I moved to Fabulous Las Vegas some 14 years ago. Although I have been in 'high-tech' for a few decades, I was chewed up and spit out of corporate America about 3 years ago. But enough of that for now.

I moved here before the city saw a huge explosion of new residents, when Vegas was still a honky-tonk town pickup trucks, hound dogs, saloons and faux western boots and ten gallon hats.

I live in a 'good' neighborhood of single family homes in a 'well-to-do' part of Northwest part of town that was once all desert when I first moved here with a good view of the mountains, but now I am surrounded by strip malls and relentless development, but on the good side have an assortment of restaurants and other services, as well as tree-lined streets, walking paths, golf courses and small parks. At an elevation of 3000 feet which makes for a cooler climate, ie, it is only 108 degrees in July as opposed to 114 degrees on the Strip which is about 12 miles away. I still love it here, despite an increase in crime, traffic and other urban ills. That's the downside of hyper growth.

I was never one to jump on the technology bandwagon simply because its there, although I was one of the first to have a PC at home and I was surfing the web long before the words 'e-commerce' was added to the dictionary. But I feel now is the time to jump into my own blog because I feel alternative voices need to be heard amidst all the extremists on both sides of the political dial. I hold Libertarian view, some of which might be construed as 'liberal' in that I do feel that government can and should be used as a tool to better the lot of the 'average Joe' but government should butt out in matters of a personal nature. On the other hand, I have been known to espouse views that take on a more conservative vein, such as balancing government budgets and I take a strong view on the need for ethics in government and the corporate world. I will rant on, despite the fact that some of these views may (and often will) go against the political tide. All topics - about life, the universe and everything are fair game. All views are welcome, Feel free to contact me at or post your own comments.

I was going to create my own website, but I find the software I have to be too limiting. That's why I have turned to

I'll start off on something arcane to get things rolling:

The new ride called 'Insanity' opened on top of the Stratosphere Tower about a month ago. While it seems like fun, I haven't exactly rushed to go on it. Last Wednesday, two young girls got on it as the last ride of the night. Spring is our windy season here in the Valley and the ride is normally shut down when windspeeds reach 31 mph. But last Wednesday, wind speeds clocked 61 mph and the 'wind computer' shut down the ride. Those girls were left hanging, 905 feet above the Strip for an hour. (It's normally a 3 minute ride). Fortunately, one of them had a cellphone and she called 911.

In a recent Fox poll, 70% of people felt the Stratosphere did the right thing in handling the situation. I'm not so sure. Where were the employees who usually strap riders into their seats? How can someone 'forget' that there are riders out there before taking off? It boggles the mind.

On Thursday morning at midnight, Steve Wynn's fabulous Wynn Resorts opens to the public. Like a shoe sale at Nordstrom's (100,000 visited Nordstrom's when it opened here), I expect hordes of people at the door being part of Vegas' latest history. I hope to been one of them.

On Friday morning the Today show will be broadcasting live from the Resort. It will be a resort worthy of the name, as I for one, have always been a fan of Steve Wynn's previous properties including the Golden Nugget and the Belaggio.

Chiao, for now.