Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Mayor Parker Won an Award

Mayor Parker won an award for local climate protection. The award was given by the US Conference of Mayors and Walmart. Here is a copy of the text of the statement: 

Yes, that says 'and Walmart.'  So, the mayor's office works with the developers to allow Walmart to build a monstrosity of a big box store in the middle of my residential neighborhood, and the mayor gets an award.  


**Backup of the Award Information, in case the above link gets taken down ... http://usmayors.org/79thAnnualMeeting/documents/BestPractices2011ClimateAwardWinners.pdf.**

Friday, June 10, 2011

Pink Spray Paint is Not Necessarily Graffiti

The pink 'graffiti' on Yale, Bonner, Koehler, and Bass Streets. These markings are where the holes will be bored for the next Geo survey for recommendations on road and slab grades. 
Its amazing sometimes to me what happens when you're nice to people. 

I happened upon a couple of polite gentlemen with a pink spray can on Bonner street this evening. After a brief joke about reporting them for gang graffiti, I asked what they were doing. 

'Its indirectly for the Walmart project' replied one of the men. 

They continued on to explain that they were supporting an additional study by Kimley Horn. If you remember, Kimley-Horn is the firm responsible for working with Ainbinder on the Traffic Impact Analysis study (TIA) for the development.

So as was explained to us, the first Geological study was done by a firm called Terracon. I'm not an expert, but what I can gather is that such a study is what is used to make recommendations for grades of roads and slabs for the development itself.  How do I know? I'll get to that in a minute ... 

According to our talk this evening, the Terracon study was not acceptable to Ainbinder, which is why they were out there; to mark with the pink spray paint where to bore holes to complete their own studies of the ground below. Apparently, the recommendations made by Terracon put construction for the development 'out of budget', and Ainbinder needed to get 'someone else to sign off' on a different recommendations.  According to the gentlemen, the recommended street grades from the Terracon study were so thick that 'a plane could have landed on them'. 

So here's the summary ... 
-Terracon did a drilling study for Ainbinder
-Terracon recommended high quality pavement, foundations, and drainage
-Terracon's recommendations = mucho dinero ($$$$$$) 
-Ainbinder doesn't want to spend mucho denero ($$$$$)
-Kimley-Horn is now doing another study so that Ainbinder doesn't have to spend mucho dinero

Love it when science is fiscally convenient. 

So, what the heck does a geological survey mean, do, or say. Thanks to the magic of the 'Les Paul' themed Google search (have you played that thing yet?), I found this, which is the 'Geotechnical Engineering Report' prepared for Ainbinder Heights LLC by Terracon consultants, April 19, 2011. 

Here are a couple of morsels: 

-Building slab and foundation performances described in this report are based on effective drainage for the life of the structures and cannot be relied upon if effective drainage is not maintained.
-Exposed ground should be sloped away from the structures for at least 10 feet beyond the
perimeter of the structures. After building construction and landscaping, we recommend
verifying final grades to document that effective drainage has been achieved. 
-we highly recommend that the near-surface soils be prepared as stated below to reduce the potential for slab movement associated with volumetric changes of the near-surface clay soils due to moisture variations to a more acceptable level. The actual movements could be greater if poor
drainage, ponded water, and/or other sources of moisture are allowed to infiltrate beneath the structure after construction.
-The final exterior grade adjacent to the building addition should be sloped to promote effective drainage away from the buildings.
-the subgrade is not suitable for heavy construction traffic prior to paving.
-Detailed traffic loads and frequencies were not available. However, we anticipate that traffic will consist primarily of passenger vehicles combined with garbage trucks and large multi- axle delivery trucks from time to time in the driveway areas.

There is a lot of detail about pavement component thickness', and other items that I am not an expert in. But fortunately, there are a bunch of experts out there that have donated their time to help those of us that aren't, understand all of this better. So, until Ainbinder decides that he has a scientific study that suits his pocketbook, I guess we can have some fun with the Terracon study. 

Sadly, the city has thus far not required drainage on the site. So despite the scientific study telling them they need it, I guess Ainbinder and Wal-Mart know far better.

Got the original report to work ... See Here ... 

What's also important to note is that this report states there must be proper drainage, yet Kimley-Horn has already stated that there will be no on-site detention  although the 380 Agreement directly obligates the city to purchase 'detention improvements' ... Really Andy Icken?  

Look folks, this isn't good for you ... the people of Houston.  These guys come in, get city funds to build, obligate the city to pay, are told by people they hire that they have to have proper water control measures, don't like the answer, and then pay someone else until they get the answer they want.  What the hell sense does this make? 

Lets not forget that next week, City Council is discussing the budget, which has already included layoffs of public workers. 

C'mon folks ... we can do better. 


Friday, June 3, 2011

Ruh Roh (Again)

So, a whole bunch of interesting news came out yesterday and today about Walmart.

First off at MSNBC, Walmart is struggling to keep its customers.

The company has taken nine months to restore thousands of grocery items, including some bestselling brands, it dumped from its shelves two years ago. The idea was to tidy up stores for the wealthier customers it had won during the recession. 

Grocery sales have improved, rising in the low single digits in the first quarter. But overall traffic at its U.S namesake stores has been down and revenue at stores open at least a year has posted eight straight quarters of declines on a year-over-year basis.

Thats a whole lot of bad news in its own right. To counter, they've been promoting the opening of smaller stores, which is beginning to take front and center attention now:

To address the increasing threat of dollar stores, Wal-Mart will open the first of up to 20 Walmart Express stores planned for this year. These stores are a tenth the size of a supercenter, or about the size of a typical drug store. Wall Street analysts and the media are expected to get a first look at a Walmart Express store Thursday. The store, in Gentry, Ark., will open later in June.

But this all seems contrary to the pep rally, err, shareholders meeting held today ... 

"We made a lot of progress over the last 11 months," said Bill Simon, president and CEO of Wal-Mart's U.S. business in an address to shareholders. "We have the right plan."

So why change it then? If the SuperCenter method is working for you (it isn't), then why focus on smaller stores? Why are you testing new ways to bring in big revenue (appliances)? 

I get that companies have to grow, but cmon now ... You can't tell shareholders that you have the right plan after posting 8 straight quarters of losses.

They're also trying to 'Win' in the Online Market ... 

“Wal-Mart CEO Mike Duke appears to be setting the company up for a run at Amazon in his comments at the Wal-Mart annual meeting today.
“Wal-Mart ‘will not just be competing’ in global ecommerce, Duke says. ‘We will play to win.’
“Wal-Mart has been making purchases and growing internally to build up its online operation, which is in synch with its brick-and-mortar stores through programs like online ordering with pick-up in stores.”

Hey, online ordering, and in store pickup? Gee Golly, what a great idea. Welcome to 2005 Mr. Duke.

Here's what it boils down to ... Walmart, like lots of US Business', has had a rough go of it in the past couple of years. Problem is, they've pushed so many people around for so long that the competition smells blood in the water, and rightly so (See Venture, Zayre's, Kmart), and And a lot of it has to do with situations very similar to this one right here.  Hugely expensive Supercenters that are not profitable, and in a lot of cases, not popular. Why on earth do they need 3 Supercenters within a 5 mile radius of one another? They don't. But its the bullheaded thinking of WM's management that has gotten them into messes like this in the first place.

Perhaps the Walton family themselves are beginning to agree ...

Walmart has tried several initiatives to turn around its domestic operations. All have failed. The latest plan is to open smaller Walmart Express outlets. These locations will be about 10% the size of normal Walmart stores, and will stock primarily food and general merchandise. At the same time, Walmart's Sam's Club unit will begin to offer more groceries.

If this new plan doesn't work, pressure will increase for the board to consider removing CEO Michael Duke (pictured). The success of his tenure has been questioned before, but the board's role is not often discussed. 

Walmart's board didn't have any trouble ousting former CEO Lee Scott, who served from 2000 to 2009. His record on labor and the environment was criticized for years. The Waltons may decide that it is time to find a replacement for Duke to see if a new candidate can turn U.S. retail operations around.

Time will tell folks.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Why The Walmart On My Street Is Going to Suck

I was initially going to call this entry, 'Why we are right', but figured the title I chose was probably a bit more noticeable.

So nearly a year ago, Ainbinder not only announced that they were intending to make tens of millions of dollars by selling land to a Walmart on my street, and taking 6 million in public money to do it (See all things '380' related), but that Walmart was also beginning to build a new Supercenter on I-10 and Silber. That's about 3.5 miles away.

So, the Supercenter at I-10 and Silber got built, against resident's wishes. 

And as expected, its already bringing problems ...

Many of the neighborhood’s 250 residents were concerned that traffic coming off I-10 would use their side streets as a driveway for the new Walmart, which opened within the past few weeks. Rather than install gates in the neighborhood, which the city’s legal department said would be a liability of emergency vehicles couldn’t get though, city officials decided to build a median that would make it impossible for northbound drivers to turn left into Afton Village.
But landlord and business owner Dan Riley said his 70 tenants are having a very tough time getting to their apartments. “(Walmart) is bringing economic development to the east side of Silber, (but) they've basically said we don't want the west side of Silber developed," Riley said. At least a half dozen other business on the west side of Silber have also complained of slumping sales since the median was installed. Drivers heading north are now forced to drive a half-mile before they can make a U-turn to head south. "I've been late to church the past two Sundays,” said Beverly Humphrey, who fears her favorite convenience store will close due to the median. “There's only one way in and out."A Walmart spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment on Sunday.

Houston CM Brenda Stardig basically summed up the city's involvement in this one ...

"This is the least restrictive (solution),” Councilmember Brenda Stardig said at a recent meeting. “And it's still not to the (neighborhood’s) satisfaction but this is what we've got."

Its very fair to note that CM Stardig voted in favor of giving the development on my street the 380. So, when a public official is throwing their hands up to say 'this is the best we've got' to the public's frustration with a company, while on the other hand, voting to give tax money to benefit that same company, then not only are they a pretty weak politician, but its also fair to question whether they've got the public's best interests in mind.

And even beyond this, it demonstrates clearly that unless you get a group like RUDH and StopHeightsWalmart going and causing a noticeable ruckus, then no one is going to care what the individuals or even the neighborhoods say. A good piece of advice from a local politician that I once received was:

'Sometimes you have to drop bombs first, then ask questions later.'

In this case, because they did not have a chance to drop bombs, a massive Walmart development is now costing neighborhood residents in quality of life, and costing local businesses their livelihood.

"... but this is what we've got."

I'm sorry that the I-10 and Silber folks are having a rough go. I do not envy their position, and I know the Civic volunteers are trying hard to preserve their neighborhood.

In our neighborhood, we're going to have to continue to demand better until the folks involved with this thing quit being pompous and ignorant.