Thursday, September 16, 2010

Green Season: HOA Updates and Observations

It's been a while since my last post, but life continues in Playa Junquillal and in Tierra Pacifica. It's easy to get so caught up in life in Costa Rica and Stateside that at times it takes a considerable effort to switch gears from one to the other... Our HOA meeting was several months ago, but the next one will arrive before we know it.

Several initiatives were launched in the wake of the meeting and continue into the "Green Season." I am hoping this post will enable us to look back at our progress in addressing HOA initiatives over the past several months, while looking forward to what needs to be done in the months ahead. Many of us correspond individually, but I'd like to explore ways in which we can have an ongoing group dialogue and post comments and announcements as well.

General Update and Comings and Goings: This year owners have had more of a presence in Tierra Pacifica than in years past. More houses are completed and many owners have had the opportunity to spend quality time in their Costa Rican homes. Joe and Di (Lot 28), Will and Lynette (48), and Keith and Cecille (4) all enjoyed extended stays again this year. Bobby spent nearly 7 months living in the newly completed Wall/Farrar home and Casey was also in residence for several months (Lot 53). Both families enjoyed visits this year. Wes and Judith (20), Paul and Hope (2), Danny and Joanna (Lot 16), Ramona and Thomas (74), and others paid visits to their TP homes. Eric and Martha (59) were putting the finishing touches on their house when our stays overlapped on a couple of occasions. Rob and Dana (Lot 12) managed visits in February, April, and June/July. Mitch and Jenny (31) have seen their lot evolve into a nearly-completed home over the last several months. TP lot owners who saw time this year included Liz and Randy (65), as well as Ricardo and Linda (33) and Mary S (14), who enjoyed their extended annual stays. Ben and Sidia (Lot 8, but currently residing in the Osa) paid a visit in July. Of course, our year round Junquillal residents Doug and Gisselle (Lot 39) and TP residents Joan and Jose (23, 24, and Hotelito Si Si Si) continued to hold down the fort and address the pressing day to day operations of Tierra Pacifica.

FIESTA! Each year we have tried to coordinate an employee fiesta of sorts as a way for the HOA to say "Gracias" to our team of gardeners, guards, and pool and cleaning staff. A couple of years in a row a group of us put together a BBQ on a Friday afternoon before the Holidays, but found it was difficult to plan so close to vacations. Several employees commented that it was nicer to do something at another time of the year, when things were not so hectic. So, we have put together impromptu cookouts ever since. In July, Joan and Jose, Bobby, Doug and Gisselle, Ben and Sidia, Martha and Eric, and Dana had an informal potluck for the HOA employees. As (bad) luck would have it, the beer delivery to Junquillal had been delayed and cold beer was at a premium! What a sad state of affairs on the Friday afternoon before winter vacations! Despite the setback, everyone seemed to enjoy the food and the acknowledgment of their contributions to Tierra Pacifica. We are truly fortunate to have low staff turnover and high loyalty among employees. We currently have a staff of 10 permanent employees, many of whom have worked for the HOA for a number of years. Our goal is to organize a few of these events each year when more home and lot owners are present. It is a great way for owners and employees to get to know each other better.

Committee Updates and Information: Our HOA meeting saw the formation of a couple of new sub-committees. In addition, existent sub-committees were charged with new tasks and goals. The information shared herein is a recap of recent activities within some of the committees. I hope this forum will enable those on committees to post their own updates, seek input, etc., as we move forward.

Green Zone Management Committee:

  • Considerations and Recommendations: Lynette proposed the formation of the Green Zone Management Committee in order to establish long-term green zone management plans and goals. Committee members are Lynette (Chair), Joan, Bobby, Doug and Dana.
  • Walk-throughs, surveys of TP green spaces, and analysis of current practices led to establishment of formal protocols to address several concerns (including the need to reduce chopping in green zone areas and increase plantings of soil and water-retaining plants, especially in areas draining into eroded quebradas; repair check dams that are still in place and generally performing, as well as replace ones that have blown out; establish new protocols for lot owners to follow who are building, especially for lots draining into eroded quebradas, to address reducing water run off and soil erosion; and plan larger fixes to repair 4-6 fast-eroding areas of TP quebradas).
  • Lynette and the committee have continued to actively address these concerns via regular observation of patterns of growth and erosion, by working with gardening and chopping staff to identify strategies for chopping and planting, and through recent professional consultation and walk-throughs during the start of the Green (rainy) Season.

GOING GREEN! June and July brought rains that tested Tierra Pacifica's infrastructure. The good news... As you can see in these pictures, channels designed to reduce erosion and encourage percolation of water into the aquifer proved effective in reducing run off and pooling on roadways. Drains enabled water to flow beneath roads and into quebradas. The bad news... There are still areas to be addressed. Daily walks through TP during the early Green Season enabled us to identify potential problem areas. Trouble spots like the one pictured here (in which a waterway has filled with sediment and runoff from a nearby lot) prompt us to work with builders and property owners to encourage proactive planning and remediation of issues that may arise.

Professional consultation was sought in July to identify ways to reduce erosion in and around some of TP's quebradas. Check dams are being monitored and rebuilt or redesigned, as needed. In addition, gardeners continue to receive instruction in water retention planting strategies and in the effectiveness of reduced chopping in erosion-prone areas.

There is still more work to be done, including distribution of guidelines for home and lot owners to educate around the topics of native plants and trees, non-native and high density species, and habitat restoration. More to come...

Finca Mi Tierra: Will Raap provided an update on the organic farm. Tierra Pacifica's organic farm is now known as Finca Mi Tierra. Farm manager, Elias, continues to implement the practices of "restoring the soil, recycling wastes and teaching local land owners how to generate income from farming. Today, we sell our organic produce and food products under the Mi Tierra brand, and encourage a healthy local economy by helping farmers and food producers find markets for their fine quality products including fruits, vegetables, honey and eggs." You'll find Mi Tierra products and produce in the Minisuper Junquillal, located at the Tierra Pacifica Commercial Center, and at the Mi Tierra nursery located outside of Paraiso on the road toward Rio Seco. (Note: TP owners get a discount on purchases from Mi Tierra nursery! Check out the selection of plants, citrus, native trees, erosion control choices including vetiver and mani grass, ornamentals, and more).

Strengthening Local Food System

Ever wonder how crops can be grown successfully in dry forest climate? The Mayan-inspired chinampas, or raised berms combined with sunken beds, that we use at Mi Tierra farm allow us to produce perennial crops all year—even in the dry season. The sunken bed design enriches the soil by capturing water and sediment in the wet season and growing vegetable crops from December through May.

Here’s a video regarding the role of the Farm:

One of the outcomes of the HOA meeting this year was to identify ways we can benefit the Tierra Pacifica and wider communities. At our meeting Keith Jones offered to purchase an AED at a substantially reduced cost. Lynette suggested that trainings could be organized to teach proper use of the AED to TP residents, employees, and interested parties in the wider community. Bobby and Keith, both certified instructors, agreed to conduct the trainings. A First Aid Committee had already been formed in Junquillal and an opportunity for collaboration was identified. The 4th Annual Junquillal Festival was held on February 14th, and proceeds were earmarked for purchase of a lithium battery for the AED device, which is to be housed in the TP Guard House.

Here is the press release that was sent out to members of the Junquillal community after the February festival:

FW: Junquillal's IV Festival Results and First Aid Committee

Friends and neighbors of Junquillal:

Thanks to the joint efforts of volunteers, our Festival of Playa Junquillal took place on February 14 and went off without a hitch. We succeeded in gathering loads of folks from here, Lagartillo, Pargos and Paraiso, Rio Seco, Santa Cruz, the US, Italy, Canada and Europe to enjoy the cultural activities and to work for a united Playa Junquillal. At the moment it is a matter of a new "Phillips" Defibrillator, to be available at the Guard Station at Tierra Pacifica. We are presently organizing a First Aid Committee, for those of you who might be interested in taking part.
Financial reckoning of the Festival 2010:
Assets earned : ..............$500.

The intent to house a functioning AED at Tierra Pacifica has hit a few logistical snags. Lithium batteries may not be carried on board commercial airlines and a shipping company has refused to ship the battery intended for the AED. If the battery cannot be recovered and carried to Costa Rica, another battery may need to be purchased in San Jose. In the meantime, training is on hold until a functioning apparatus is in place. Keith or Lynette: Do we have any updates on the status of the battery and AED unit?

Tierra Pacifica Financials: Second quarter financials were reported to the HOA Board by Jim Hamilton in early July. We have reasons to be pleased with the report given the current economic climate... Our receivables are close to 94% and the outstanding balance is limited to 4 individual accounts. Expenditure is performing better than budget to date. This is good news!

Jim's Report:
"We are just under 94% collected at the half year in terms of our HOA Receivables, the outstanding 6% represents a cash figure of just under $15k from four individuals. Please see the report for details and ongoing actions.

Expenditure is in line with 2009 and therefore performing better than budget at this stage (please note that June's expenditure is only to the 16th, as this is when the audit was done, and is not a full month). Obviously the rapidly changing Colon vs USD exchange rate will continue to effect forecasts."

Measures are being taken to collect on the outstanding accounts. In the continued interest of transparency, Jim forwarded the financial report to anyone who made a request.

Additional Committee Updates and Reports: If anyone is able to comment on the status of the Security Committee or other sub-committees, your updates would be appreciated.

I'm trying to assemble a Facebook site that may offer easier dialogue. The downside is that a number of individuals do not use Facebook. If you do, please let me know so I can "friend" you when the site is active.

Feel free to use this Blog to post your comments, communicate TP-related information, or to let us know when you'll be in Junquillal. It has been great getting to know more HOA members over the course of the last year!

Pura Vida!