Category Archives: Organizations

Bikers, Drivers, Rodney King And Robert Frost

Last week, Westport’s board of selectmen — aka the town’s traffic authority — unanimously accepted three “3 Feet Please” signs, donated by the Sound Cyclists Bicycle Club.

The signs publicize Connecticut’s little-known and even-less-followed 3-foot law, requiring drivers to allow at least 3 feet of separation when overtaking and passing cyclists.

The signs will be placed on 3 heavily traveled, hairy-for-cyclists spots heading to the beach, on South Compo, Greens Farms and Hillspoint Roads.

Bicyclists

A typical scene near the beach.

The selectmen highlighted other state laws that bikers and drivers should be aware of. For example:

  • Bicyclists traveling on roadways have the same rights and responsibilities as motorists.
  • Bicyclists must stop at red lights, and make a full stop at stop signs.
  • Bicyclists cannot ride into oncoming traffic.
  • Bicyclists must use hand or mechanical signals to communicate with other travelers.
  • Bicyclists may not ride more than 2 abreast.
  • Children under the age of 16 must wear a helmet.

Westport is well known for its lunatic drivers. Cyclists are often terrified on town roads.

But, as the list above shows, there are plenty of laws they ignore too.

In the words of Rodney King: “Can’t we all just get along?”

Probably not. Unless, that is, we follow the words of Robert Frost, and take the road less traveled.

 

Lynsey Addario Honors International Day Of The Girl

Today is the International Day of the Girl Child. In honor of the UN-sponsored event, NPR asked 5 photographers — all renowned for documenting the lives of global girls — to share photos with special significance.

Though known as a public radio network, NPR’s website is robust and thought-provoking.

Lynsey Addario — the MacArthur “Genius Grant”-winning/world famous photographer/Staples graduate — does not disappoint. Her photos include a 13-year-old Syrian girl at her engagement party, and another young teenager from Sierra Leone who died delivering twins.

Check out Lynsey’s haunting photos — and many others — at the NPR website.

Lynsey says of this 13-year-old girl, photographed at her engagement party at a camp in Jordan: "Syrian refugees typically marry young. It's been exacerbated by the war. Families are scared something might happen to their daughter. They prefer to marry them earlier so they're under the protection of a husband." (Photo/Lynsey Addario for NPR)

Lynsey says of this 13-year-old girl, photographed at her engagement party at a camp in Jordan: “Syrian refugees typically marry young. It’s been exacerbated by the war. Families are scared something might happen to their daughter. They prefer to marry them earlier so they’re under the protection of a husband.” (Photo/Lynsey Addario for NPR)

Lynsey Addario photographed this young girl, who died delivering twins. The Sierra Leonean wanted to earn a degree, but at 14 was forced into marriage. (Photo/Lynsey Addario for NPR)

Lynsey Addario photographed this young girl, who died delivering twins. The Sierra Leonean wanted to earn a degree, but at 14 was forced into marriage. (Photo/Lynsey Addario for NPR)

(Hat tip to Siobhan Crise)

 

John Dodig Lauded By Lambda

Fifteen years ago, Fairfield High School principal John Dodig made a life-changing decision.

“I decided I’d no longer hide who I am,” he says. “At the same time, I knew I wanted to be known not as ‘the gay principal,’ but as a principal who cares about all kids, and happens to be gay.”

That decision, he says, allowed him to create a school environment in which he hopes every student feels comfortable in his or her own skin. “Many — if not most — people carry scars from high school or middle school forever,” Dodig says. “I don’t think that has to be the case.”

John Dodig

John Dodig

Dodig retired from Fairfield High in 2003. Soon, he was named interim principal of Staples. He liked the staff, students, parents and Westport community so much, he applied for the permanent position. The Board of Education did not interview anyone else.

In 11 years at the helm, Dodig has directed much of his attention to what he calls “the affective domain.” Staples has always had high academic standards. Concentrating on the social and emotional aspects components of the school, he says, allows everyone to create an environment in which all teenagers feel welcome. And that, he notes, helps them perform at their best academically.

Dodig’s work has drawn praise from fellow administrators, staff members, students and parents. Now it’s gotten the attention of Lambda Legal. On Sunday, October 26 (12 p.m., Mitchells of Westport), the human rights organization’s Connecticut chapter will honor the principal for his impact on thousands of students, over his 45-year career as an educator.

“John leads by example and strength of character,” says Staples graduate Adam Stolpen, who nominated Dodig for the award.

At Staples, Dodig has created a warm, supportive environment in many ways. At nearly every faculty meeting, he stresses the importance that teaching “chemistry, US history or whatever” is not all that matters. “Each of us has to support, care and love everyone else,” he says.

John Dodig -- principal and proud Staples supporter.

John Dodig — principal and proud Staples supporter.

He is a ubiquitous presence, standing in the front hallway as students begin the day and in the cafeteria during the 3 lunch waves. He knows most students by name. He congratulates them on their athletic, artistic, academic or extracurricular achievements. They, in turn, approach him to mention an interesting class discussion, suggest a possible improvement in school life, or congratulate him on his recent marriage.

For a school of 1900 students, the incidence of name-calling is low. Many students “have bought into the message that in this high school, you should be free to be who you are,” Dodig says.

Not all do, of course. But those who don’t “know that it’s socially inappropriate to put someone down for who they are.

“Our culture  is visible every moment school is in session,” Dodig says. “It starts at the top. If a principal is mean or nasty, that trickles down to everyone. If the message is to help kids navigate high school with as few scars as possible, that trickles down too.”

At graduation, many students ask to pose for photos with their principal. In 2013, John Dodig stood with departing senior August Laska.

At graduation, many students ask to pose for photos with their principal. In 2013, John Dodig stood with departing senior August Laska.

Dodig is proud of the many small ways his message trickles down. On the 1st day of school this year, for example, he addressed all 4 classes separately about Staples’ culture. He followed with an email to parents, suggesting they talk with their kids to see how that message was received.

One parent responded with a story about her sophomore son. He didn’t think he could make it to the end of his cross country run, but an upperclassman stopped, asked what was wrong, and finished the course with him.

The next day, the mother said, her son saw a freshman in the same situation. This time the sophomore was the one who stopped, talked, and ran with his teammate to the end.

Dodig is proud too of the many emails he’s received from parents, saying that at Staples their child felt empowered to come out as gay.

Lambda LegalThat makes his Lambda Legal award particularly important. The decision he made 15 years ago has paid off in countless ways, for thousands of students. Dodig has impacted them, and they in turn have impacted many others.

Even those who — unlike everyone at Staples — have no idea who John Dodig is, and what he stands for.

(Click on the Lambda Legal website for tickets to Dodig’s award ceremony.)

A Beautiful Bridge — If You Can See It

Every day, alert “06880” reader Jane Sherman drives over the small North Avenue bridge that crosses the Saugatuck River.

And every day she is dismayed to see the weeds and grasses that have grown up along it, since its reconstruction last year.

The North Avenue bridge. (Photo/Jane Sherman)

The North Avenue bridge. (Photo/Jane Sherman)

She called Public Works. They told her there is no money available for maintenance. They’re busy trimming trees on Easton Road, and doing other jobs to protect public safety.

Jane says, “I’m distressed. I feel like stopping and weeding the area myself.”

But she knows they’ll just grow back. Weeding is not a one-time job.

“This bridge is beautiful and new,” Jane says. “What a shame that Westport intends to let the site deteriorate.”

Shirley Land Memorial Service Set For October 18

A memorial service for Shirley Land — Westport’s uber-arts-and-history volunteer who died in July — will be held on Saturday, October 18, at the Westport Library (1:30 p.m.).  That’s a fitting site, as the library was one of her greatest passions. Shirley served it well for many decades, in countless capacities.

Immediately following the service, the family will gather at the nearby Westport Senior Center (21 Imperial Avenue).

Contributions in Shirley’s name can be made to the Westport Library, 20 Jesup Road, Westport, CT 06880.

Shirley Land. Among her many accomplishments, she founded the Westport Library Book Sale in 1993.

Shirley Land. Among her many accomplishments, she founded the Westport Library Book Sale in 1993.

 

Poop Plea

Haskins Preserve is an astonishing site on Green Acre Lane (off South Compo Road) administered by Aspetuck Land Trust. Its 16 acres are filled with woods, meadows, ponds, dams, and a spectacular assortment of rare trees.

Many Westporters have never heard of it. Those who have, treasure it as an oasis of beauty and solitude.

Most do, anyway.

Dog waste is a mounting problem at the Haskins Preserve. And it’s not just droppings on trails and paths. Some owners actually take the time to wrap waste in plastic bags — then leave them lying around.

Some sleazeballs “hide” the poop behind rocks and trees. Others are more brazen. They dump the dumps within sight of a sign saying, “Please remove dog waste.”

Steward Jamie Walsh has posted a video documenting this spectacularly rude and seriously obnoxious behavior.

Why don’t the stewards just put garbage cans at Haskins Preserve?

“We’re a volunteer organization, with a limited budget and resources,” Jamie explains. “It’s not practical for someone to empty them on a regular basis.

“And it would attract wildlife that would feast on the remaining garbage, which would then be strewn all over the parking lot.”

Haskins is a preserve — not a park. Is it too much to ask that if you bring your dog with you, then you take your dog’s business out?

For some Westporters, the answer is apparently: yes.

Haskins Preserve: no place for dog poop.

Haskins Preserve: no place for dog poop.

 

Get Your Fixe At Restaurant Week

Positano’s and Splash are rumored to be on the doomed list. Westporters will hate to see them go.

Yet — in this dog eat dog(ho ho)  world — restaurants open and close all the time. Our dining scene is alive and well.

To show off what’s out there, the Westport Weston Chamber of Commerce is sponsoring “Restaurant Week.”

It runs from this Sunday (October 5) through October 19. Alert “06880” readers will notice that is actually 2 weeks, not 1, but there’s nothing wrong with under-promising and over-delivering.

Arezzo -- one of Westport's most popular restaurants -- is among the many spots offering special Restaurant Week menus.

Arezzo — one of Westport’s most popular restaurants — is among the many spots offering special Restaurant Week menus.

Each of the 27 participating restaurants offers a prix fixe meal. Lunches are $15, $20 or $25; dinners, $25, $30 or $35. Brunch starts at $20.

Restaurant Week participants include 323 Main; Acqua, Arezzo; Artisan at the Delamar; Blue Lemon; Boathouse; DaPietro’s; Geronimo; Gray Goose; Little Barn; Mario’s; Matsu Sushi; Mumbai Times; Pane e Bene; Pink Sumo; Post 154; Rive Bistro; Rizzuto’s; Sakura; Spotted Horse; Tarantino; Tarry Lodge; Tavern on Main; Terrain; Tierra; Tutti’s, and Via Sforza.

Two specialty cocktail venues — Luxe and Neat — serve pre-dinner drinks and nightcaps.

It’s a good thing Restaurant Week is really 2 weeks. With a little planning (and figuring in brunch and drinks), you can try every spot.

(For more information — including menus — click on the Chamber’s website.)

Jamie Graves Is A Sommelier, For Goodness’ Sake

This story is for anyone who drinks sake at Sakura. Or worries whether their unconventional kid will do okay in life.

Or — for teenagers and 20somethings — if you yourself wonder where your path may lead.

At Staples, Jamie Graves played bass in the jazz band and skied on the boys team. He graduated from Oberlin in 2002 with a major in modern history, a minor in East Asian studies, and no idea what to do next.

Jamie Graves

Jamie Graves

He got a job teaching English in a Japanese elementary school. When his year was up, Jamie found an entry-level position as a cook in a Western-style restaurant outside Tokyo.

For the next 3 years he studied cooking in several restaurants, learning how to make soba noodles. He also passed high-level written and oral Japanese exams.

Jamie moved to New York in 2007, to be a freelance translator and writer. To make ends meet he worked at Kajitsu, a high-end restaurant. Inspired by the chef, he realized he could make that his career.

He was asked to be an opening manager at David Bouley’s Brushstroke, a prestigious Tribeca restaurant that was a showcase for Japanese tasting menus. He was responsible for daily operations, hiring and training staff, and translating.

Brushstroke’s sommeliers were tremendously knowledgeable about both wine and sake, and Jamie was an avid pupil. He learned how to taste, describe, store and serve sake.

sakamaiHe’s now general manager and sommelier of Sakamai, a creative place with one of the biggest and most interesting sake menus in New York (along with a small, curated wine list).

As a sommelier, he guides diners through wine and sake lists toward something right for their budget.

A good sommelier, Jamie says, is “empathetic, a great reader of people, can translate what someone is saying into what they actually what, and knows when to push for something unusual and when to play it safe.”

Jamie is certainly a good — if not great — sommelier.

When he learned that the Japan-based Sake Service Institute was sponsoring its 4th World Sake Sommelier Competition, he entered.

He didn’t expect much. But Jamie won the New York regional competition, earning a trip to Tokyo for the semis and finals. He visited a few sake breweries, then prepared for the event on September 19.

Of the 25 semifinalists, 20 were from Japan. Jamie was one of 3 Americans.

The press was out in force for the sake sommelier competition.

The press was out in force for the sake sommelier competition. Jamie is at the podium.

For the semis he was given 10 minutes to taste and evaluate 4 types of sake, and 4 of shochu (a Japanese spirit like a mild vodka). He examined a food menu, then stepped into a service situation to advise a couple ordering dinner on pairing and drink suggestions.

Then came a 5-minute oral presentation on explaining and promoting sake. Jamie spoke in Japanese.

The next day, he was announced as one of 10 finalists — the only American to advance.

The final took place in front of 150 spectators, plus journalists from national papers and magazine. Each contestant tasted a glass of sake without knowing about it; they had to identify aroma, color, taste and style, and declare ideal food pairings and possible maker.

That was followed by another mock service with a couple ordering dinner, and a 1-minute summation speech. All that took less than 10 minutes.

Jamie did not win. But he was 1 of 3 finalists named “Tokubetsu-sho” (honorable mention). The judges particularly liked his food pairing speech.

Jamie Graves, proud American at the sake sommelier competition.

Jamie Graves, proud American at the sake sommelier competition.

So how does all this tie back to Westport, and not knowing in high school what your life will be like?

“I’ve always thought that several teachers at Staples, including Karl Decker and Dave Scrofani, were some of the best I’ve ever had,” Jamie says.

“They constantly challenged me to be curious and not settle for easy answers. They also showed me how to be self-disciplined, and truly understand a subject inside and out. That’s helped me in studying Japanese, and learning wine and sake, both of which came outside an academic environment.”

Jamie also appreciates that his time at Staples was “absolutely suffused with music, playing in jazz band and informally with other students. It really taught me how to listen, and gave me an ear for the rhythms of speaking Japanese.”

So, parents and teenagers: Don’t worry about an unclear career path. Enjoy today, and drink in all that’s around you.

Preferably with sake.

 

Compo Beach Plan Gets Rocky Reception

A member of the Compo Beach Master Plan Committee called last April’s public meeting — where opposition to new proposals, particularly perimeter parking, surfaced strongly — a “flash mob.”

Last night’s meeting at Town Hall — the 1st time the Parks and Recreation Commission reviewed the plan — was far less contentious. Citizens waited patiently through the consultants’ presentation of conceptual — not final — ideas, and a few commissioners’ questions, before speaking.

But when they spoke, they voiced a number of concerns.

As First Selectman Jim Marpe noted, Compo is used in “an amazing number of ways, and in common.” He spoke of the importance of investing in, upgrading and improving areas of the beach “where it makes sense.”

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Compo Beach: a town jewel, beloved by all.

Introducing 2 plans — Options A and B — Consultants AKRF and Lothrop Associates expressed the hope that “everyone will like everything,” but cautioned, “no one will like everything.”

They sure didn’t.

Both plans show:

  • a new entrance across from Bradley Street, with permit pass-checking deeper into the beach than now exists
  • a driving loop around the beach, with perimeter pathways for walkers, joggers and bikers
  • an extended boardwalk, toward the cannons
  • exercise stations
  • upgraded bathrooms, lockers and Joey’s
  • redesigned marina promenade
  • unobstructed parking spaces
  • new trees
  • improved facilities (including a bathroom) on South Beach
  • a central lawn for picnics and special events, like Lobsterfest
  • new walkways along Soundview Drive and Compo Beach Road.

Option A pushes all parking back from the beach. Option B removes some of that, but allows some parking similar to what now exists on South Beach.

Both plans remove 200 to 300 parking spaces from the current number, which is around 1900.

Parking is one of the most contentious parts of the 2 beach proposals.

Parking is one of the most contentious parts of the 2 beach proposals.

Parks & Rec chair Charlie Haberstroh allowed youngsters to speak first. Several spoke eloquently and passionately of the need to retain the skate park. It does not appear in the current plans, but Parks & Rec director Stuart McCarthy said room could be made for it.

Then came comments from older folks. An early question covered costs. New buildings would run approximately $4 million; site work would be another $4 million. (Paving alone — included in site work — is about $2 million.)

Speakers zeroed in on specific concerns: Bradley Street will become more congested. The amount of asphalt and concrete that would be added to what are now “pervious” parking lots. The number of kayak racks that would be lost (none, McCarthy said).

Among the comments:

“You’re sacrificing 200 to 400 parking spaces for lawn and shrubs.”

“Parking and views are there 365 days a year. Traffic problems, they’re only 40 days or so.”

“I don’t understand all the talk about safety. The Sound is more dangerous than the beach.”

John Brandt referred back to an earlier speech. “You don’t fracture a gem,” the longtime Westporter said. “You polish it. We need to find a way to polish this gem.”

Compo Beach: a true town gem.

Compo Beach is a true town gem.

As Compo Beach Master Plan committee chair Andy Moss noted, plenty of dialogue and debate lie ahead. The Compo Beach proposals — which are still only design concepts — must still make their way through the Recreation Commission. Then comes the Planning and Zoning Commission, the selectmen, back to Parks & Rec, back to P&Z, and finally to the town’s funding bodies (Board of Finance and RTM).

Meanwhile, Westporters will continue to debate what they want — and don’t — for the town’s crown jewel.

The dialogue began last night. It can continue here. Click “Comments” — but please, be civil. Debate ideas; don’t castigate people. And use your full, real name.

Coalition For Westport: P&Z Can’t “Reject Progress”

Denise Torve — chair of the Coalition for Westport — weighs in on the Planning & Zoning Commission’s 6-1 defeat of a proposal to build senior housing on the Baron’s South property. Saying the P&Z “may have nailed the coffin lid on the subject of senior housing,” she writes:

In the 2013 campaign, the Coalition spoke often of an active, not static vision for Westport that considered the needs now and in the future, of all Westporters. Instead we have a commission that seems bent on obstruction. It is comprised for the most part of individuals who, in spite of their explanations to the contrary, are dedicated to the reactionary philosophy that change is bad and Westport must be “preserved” in its original state. The rejected proposal for senior housing and recreational facilities on town-owned land would have been a plus for seniors, a positive motivation for the developer and brought significant revenues to the Town.

The public response of P&Z commissioner David Lessing, who was the sole vote in favor of the text amendment, made for interesting reading. It’s also déjà vu. Lessing’s views mirror CFW’s platform of last year’s campaign. Indeed, the Coalition was founded on the idea that Westport was in dire need of a Planning & Zoning Commission that would proactively plan for the future. The Coalition issued an urgent call for a P&Z that provides a “framework for planned and controlled growth.”

The senior housing project was first proposed 6 years ago by then-First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, and strongly supported by our current First Selectman, Jim Marpe. In order to save this project the P&Z must be willing to enter into discussion and dialogue with the Selectman’s Office, the Board of Finance and other officials. Otherwise, 6 sitting P&Z commissioners will have undermined 6 years of work and the hopes of many Westport seniors.

We support the Selectman. We echo his thoughts on the subject and call for efforts to begin immediately to craft a solution. If the best use of Baron’s South is a facility for people to use, enjoy and remain in Westport, we as a community must resolve to make it happen.  As it stands we have no new facilities for a significant segment of our population, and we have no new revenue. So much to gain and so little achieved.

An artist's rendering of the now-rejected senior housing complex on Baron's South.

An artist’s rendering of the now-rejected senior housing complex on Baron’s South.

The Coalition stands for a P&Z that is engaged, and against one that is merely reactive and dedicated to preserving Westport in a fossilized state. Yes, we live in a town with a unique character. Yes, that character should be preserved. But no, that does not mean we should reject progress, improvements and benefits that inure to various segments of our population and to the town as a whole. Our elected officials must keep an eye to the future, and plan for the needs of both our current and future residents. Westport must remain attractive for us and to generations that follow.

Coalition for WestportThe Coalition stands for open discussion, free of partisanship about projects that affect the quality of life and value to Westport. We reject intra-agency back-biting and competitiveness. We reject motivations that diverge from anything but the best interests of the Town and its residents. In the 2013 campaign CFW referred often to the consequences that would ensue from a 7-member P&Z, all of whom were endorsed by the one party that is opposed to new development. Westport missed an opportunity last year to have a P&Z comprised of a number of non-partisan members – Republicans, Democrats, Independents. Hopefully, this will be rectified in the next election.

With the downtown development project moving swiftly along, ably led by Melissa Kane of the Downtown Steering Committee, the P&Z must take a proactive role and listen to the entire community and not focus on the views of one group. The Downtown project cannot follow in the path of Baron’s South.  Westporters deserve more from our elected officials.