Neighborhood group off to running start

Concerns about marathon helped bring Evergreen Shores residents together

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

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photoLongtime resident Lee McCallister served as the chairman for the Fruit Valley Neighborhood Association for 21 of the group's 35 years. He credits the organization's accomplishments to the collaboration of neighbors, businesses and government agencies.

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When swarms of runners raced down East Evergreen Boulevard in June in pursuit of finishing a marathon, some area residents awoke surprised.

"No one notified us … and no one was regulating the intersections," said Patty Anderson, president and resident of the Shorewood East Condominiums.

The lack of communication with the city about the event, along with other festering frustrations, led Anderson and other area residents to band together and form the Evergreen Shores Neighborhood Association.

"A driving force was to get recognized by the city that we existed," Anderson said.

Nestled between East Evergreen Boulevard, state Highway 14 and North Blandford Drive as a western border, the neighborhood association represents more than 500 households and was recognized by Vancouver in November.

The new group joins 65 other neighborhood associations, groups formed and led by area residents that are supported by the city. Ninety percent of Vancouver's population is represented in a neighborhood association.

When it came time to electing officers, Amber McArthur and her husband Rick stepped up as co-chairs.

"I figured I'd get involved since I do a lot of complaining about the traffic," she said. "When Highway 14 is backed up, (motorists) use our neighborhood to beat the traffic. The speed limit is 25, and they're not going 25."

Within the past four months, the city has put up more speed limit signs and is considering widening roads and creating fog lines.

"It's amazing, the response and support from the city of Vancouver. I'm extremely impressed," she said. "We're a bigger voice to them. It's not just one person; we're a group … so when there's an issue here or an issue there, they do something."

McArthur has learned that the formation of the group opens the lines of communication between residents and elected officials. This gives residents more of a voice in how officials spend tax dollars.

For example, neighborhood associations are assigned a city staffer who acts as a liaison for the group. So when there are proposed developments, the neighbors get to express their opinions, something that McArthur and Anderson said they appreciate. Each neighborhood association is also assigned a police officer who, instead of responding to 911 calls, focuses on addressing neighborhood problems.

Judi Bailey, neighborhood programs manager for the city, said that involvement with each group varies.

"They are as affective as the involvement of the neighbors in the neighborhood association," Bailey said.

Just ask Lee McCallister.

Having served as the chairman for the Fruit Valley Association for 21 years, McCallister knows a thing or two about community involvement.

"It's my neighborhood. I love this neighborhood, I love the people in it," he said. "And if you love something, help it along."

The group celebrated its 35th anniversary last month, and McCallister said there is a long list of accomplishments the group has to be proud of.

For example, the group was involved in the designing of Fruit Valley Park and helped start a lunch buddy program for grade schoolers. They hold regular Bunco nights and are starting up a gardening club.

And when the school district proposed a closure of Fruit Valley Elementary School because of dwindling enrollment about 10 years ago, neighbors raised a ruckus.

The result was a scheme that involved coordination between several interested agencies. The Vancouver Housing Authority swapped adjacent open property with the Vancouver School District for the old school building.

The school district built a new school aimed at offering neighborhood resources, while the old school building was torn down and turned into a housing complex.

"Kids did not miss a day of school," McCallister said. "A school to me is a backbone of a neighborhood."

The advice he offered to the new neighborhood association was to stay open to all the opinions of all the area's neighbors.

"Sometimes an 8-year-old kid has a better idea than a 50-year-old," McCallister said. "I'm proud of where my neighborhood has come. Every time we've had a problem, someone has stepped up to handle the problem."

Emily Gillespie: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops; emily.gillespie@columbian.com.