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Posts posted by TheNiche

  1. It's unfortunate that the second largest employment center in Houston is just going to get a glorified bus system, that will most likely not provide any meaningful improvements and not have as much of an impact as a rail line would.

    It's unfortunate that we don't have Maglev. Maybe it's because we haven't the fortune to spend.

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  2. I have returned and it was good. The Wal-Mart was perfectly adequate. Shelves were well-stocked and EDLP was in effect. There were many customers. The parking lot was probably two thirds full. The customer base was extremely diverse in every way. People of every shape and color, of both low income and high income households, with and without children, shopping alone and with others, and perfectly pleasant, all were in attendance.

    There weren't any protesters, possibly because it was a little cold out. I probably shouldn't expect them to be particularly tolerant of 60-degree weather or socioeconomic diversity.

    There was one frustrating thing about my trip, which was the drive home. It must've been a critical mass event, and the route must have picked up at Memorial Drive. The cyclists did not know how to stay in their lanes. Certain ones seemed to really take a pleasure in weaving around, in and out of lanes and posted bike lanes, or riding along the striped line. Something about that should be illegal. They were definitely posing a hazard to public safety. I think that I'm going to complain to the City and see if we can't get them monitored by HPD (perhaps instead of the Yale Street bridge).

  3. I think setting a benchmark that someone should own a business before criticizing a business is absurd. When Bruce Molzan was stealing wages from workers, I protested that, and I didn't need to own a business to do it. Thankfully his place has, as of today, been torn down.

    You can say whatever you want based on whatever benchmark of understanding you so please. Nobody's going to stop you except for you...which in this case, is what I am suggesting that you should consider.

    Just so you know that individuals are capable of not revealing their ignorance of a subject matter, I'm going to demonstrate my point by not commenting on what seems to me to be an off-topic red herring about which I know only a superficial level of detail, the issue of Bruce Molzan.


    See now, that wasn't so hard. Okay, now I'm going to go to Wal-Mart. Perhaps I'll see you in the pizza isle.

  4. Am I a free person living in a free country? Then I guess I'm in a position to criticize a business' practices.

    I don't think that anybody was suggesting that your civil right to free speech is or should be constrained, merely that you are clearly lacking of experience and credibility and that your opinion is so worthless to decision-makers within our socitey that it is a waste of your own time to bother expressing it.

    That you would confuse the issue proves the point.

  5. I was hoping editor would make an appropriately wonky response, but he declined to enter the fray. I can't supply that, but I can ask this: why should we be overly concerned about the relative affordability of American cities for undocumented immigrants?

    I am presuming your typical economist/business-wing-of-the-GOP support for unlimited immigration, and in return you may presume whatever xenophobia on my part that you wish. The nuances of our positions are perhaps not important.

    I could've said that we should be comparing the lifestyles of dentists or CPAs that are demographically similar and that have similar household characteristics. I could've made the same inquiry as narrowly as to compare the lifestyles of Wal-Mart greeters, but not so broadly as to compare a heterogeneous category such as salespeople.

    I went for the unskilled Latin American immigrant household because it is a segment of the population that Houston has in huge numbers and that Washington D.C. and San Francisco do not. Houston has so many low-earning people living here not only because of proximity but because, for them, we are an affordable locale relative to earnings potential. That this is true means that our median income gets skewed downward. Typical lower-earning people are going to pay a larger percentage of their income toward housing and transportation than higher-earning people, regardless of which city they live in; so a city where the median worker is a forklift operator will appear in this study to be at a disadvantage from a city where the median worker is an entry-level accountant, even if the forklift operator lives in the city that would yield the highest income relative to earnings for forklift operators.

    My critique of this study has nothing to do with a political agenda. The research methodology is bunk, that's all.

  6. Ah. I've got an old apartment in a downtown building, and I'm sure I'm losing heat. I should look around for holes. I've got central air but turn it off during the day on weekdays. Closing a door isn't really practical, because I'm renting and the door to my bedroom is a sliding door that will pass air even when closed. Other electricity expenses are a flat screen TV and my computer. I used 885 kwh last month at 6.7 cents an hour plus the utility charge (41.20).

    I'd tell you to stick down a strip of something along the path that your pocket door closes, but it's a moot point since you've got central air.

    On the other hand, since you are renting and don't really care about the theoretical effect of back pressure on the longevity of the A/C system, you might fiddle with which vents are open and which are closed at any given time so as to create the effect of a zoned system.

  7. I have a low rate too, but how do you manage so few kwh, especially for air conditioning?

    My rate is eight cents per kwh. That helps.

    I have two window units in my one-bedroom apartment. One is in the living room and one is in the bedroom. I cool whichever room I'm physically occupying and keep doors closed. I'm at work during the heat of the day and keep the A/C completely off. The kitchen is along the south wall and is against an un-air-conditioned stairwell, so it is the warmest room; it also has the gas oven, gas water heater, gas stove, and (electric) fridge, so it generates a lot of heat. Thankfully, the kitchen also has a door. I keep the door closed and the window open when I'm cooking something so that I don't have to offset the heat generated by my appliances.

    Another thing. Many older apartments are drafty. Mine isn't. I installed (or improvised) weather stripping on the doors and caulked-in any gaps that I could find anywhere in the unit.

  8. As for energy -- Houston is the place where I paid the highest electric bills. I had electricity bills up to $150/month in Houston. I've never had a bill over $45 anywhere else. Ever. I've had Summer electric bills of $19 in New Jersey (more in Seattle because northwest hydro and wind is more expensive than the Midwest's coal/nuclear, or the East Coast's oil/gas/nuclear). It's hot in Houston, and I'm fat so the air conditioner has to run. In buildings I've lived in in the north, heat is either included in the rent, required by city ordinance to be kept at a certain level by the landlord, or you get a big fat check from the state every Spring to make up for the money you spent on heating over the winter.

    Texas has a large amount of electricity generation capacity from gas-fired power plants. Since natural gas prices have shifted to a structurally much lower level, I have been pleasantly surprised by my electricity contracts. I rarely pay a bill larger than $50 in any given month.

  9. It makes perfect sense.

    I move every couple of years. Every time I move I make a list of cities I'd want to live in and compare the cost of living in each. Houston is always on my wish list, but I'm never able to move there because the cost of transportation makes it far more expensive than other cities that, on the surface, seem more expensive.

    When I left Houston in 2003, transportation costs for my household were around $700/month. (My car payment + wife's car payment + fuel + insurance. Not including maintenance because I had new cars still in their free maintenance promotional periods.)

    According to Quickbooks, my monthly average transportation costs when I moved to Seattle was $216 for two people (ORCA passes + ZIpCar usage). In Chicago (far less ZipCar usage, no expensive ferries) it's $68/month for two people.

    There's a lot more to calculating the cost of living than just housing.

    No, it wouldn't. It would be interesting, but not useful. Examining hundreds of different edge cases only serves to distract from the point of the study. Unlike my anecdote above, the study, like most studies, isn't about one person or one family, it's about large numbers of people.

    Yes, just like schools do well on standardized tests if you remove all of the troublesome students from class on test day. It doesn't make the testing more accurate, but it helps achieve a pre-determined goal.

    Texas is more expensive for transportation. That's just the nature of Texas -- it's wide-open and spread out compared to many other places in the country. Just like America is more expensive than Europe for transportation because everyone is comparatively spread out.

    It's not a bad reflection on Texas, it's just the nature of the beast. Accept it. Embrace it.

    I'm not trying to get to a predetermined goal. I just want predictive validity from my data. You aren't going to get that by making such arbitrary and meaningless comparisons.

    Also. Transit is not inexpensive, merely paid for in a roundabout manner. Since everyone is paying for it whether they use it or not, the average costs are impacted but the difference in cost for a user versus a non-user may be vast. But it isn't going to get picked up in a study such as this.

  10. Broadly measured, housing in the Houston area is cheap compared to other big cities. But when combined with transportation costs, this market becomes less affordable, a new study shows.


    They're calling Washington D.C. the most expensive in absolute terms and the most affordable in relative terms because households there that are in the 25% to 50% range of median income earn vastly more income on average. This reflects that their demography and economy are skewed, not that there is a lesson that can be translated toward better public policy elsewhere.

    So even though that slice of households within D.C. have housing costs that are 65% higher and transportation costs that are 5% higher than Houston's, they earn 57% more money, they're obviously from the same socioeconomic class and this is a valid apples-to-apples comparison with strong predictive validity...right?

    No. That's just stupid.

    It would be useful to examine the lifestyles of people that are of comparable backgrounds. For instance, it would be useful and interesting to compare the earnings and expense profiles of undocumented immigrants from Latin America that are living in various cities and that do not speak English and that have minimal skills. And then, within that group, what happens if they live in family households versus non-family households. However, we would also want to evaluate the qualitative aspects of their lifestyle. Do they live in a house or an apartment. How large? What is the crime rate within their neighborhood? Do they keep roommates? How do they commute? How long does the commute take? If they have kids, do their schools rank well with respect to students from similar households? I'd imagine that Texas would perform quite well if you bother to segment out the population like that.

  11. I'm so upset. I will be out of town on Friday, so I won't be able to see Leonard and s3mh picketing the new Walmart on opening day. Can someone take pictures for me?

    No worries, I've got you covered. Them too, as I plan on buying them some Kleenex, lest they cry me a bayou to try and prove their stormwater runoff concerns.

    Need me to pick up some 50-pound bags of dog food while I'm there?

  12. Yeah, I am mixed about this also. The previous city council and city manager fought hard to get the height ordinances in place to set some sort of cohesion on Seawll development. Basiclly one is unrestricted on height beyound 2nd street to the east and 103rd st. to the west. This variance now gives each project a chance to present their proposal to the planning commision and then to city council. Just the kind of micro managing the previous administrations were trying to avoid. Galveston already has a bad reputation as a difficult place for builders. This doesn't help.

    Developers can cope with the City giving them unexpected leeway. All they have to do is delay closing on the site until after the variance has been granted. It was when the City attempted to apply restrictions that didn't exist, or to apply them ex post facto, that pissed off the business community.

    This sort of approach, where a City has restrictive zoning but a fairly permissive approach to variances is what most large cities tend to do. It keeps things very streamlined for conforming development, but requires permission for anything that might be contentious. There is some logic to that approach to zoning; properly executed, a City can settle on a variance and also get something that they want from the developer...for instance streetscape improvements or other aesthetic embellishments. On the other hand, it does occasionally create motives for cronyism and corruption (like in Dallas), "political consulting" that results in the City becoming an investor (like in Austin), or circumstances whereby the developer has to hire someone's worthless nephew (like in San Antonio).

  13. I dunno, Marvy Finger already got his variance from the city for his plan. Seems like that deal is already a Go. I'd hate to throw money at something that is already happening.

    A developer that is trying to put together a complicated deal will often not close on the acquisition of their site until conducting ridiculously thorough due diligence and lining up all the necessary variances, permits, and incentives if at all possible. It's not a 'Go' until it's gone; and until they have money, all they've got is talk. These circumstances are as true for Finger's deal as they are for Provident's, however to my knowledge Finger got the incentives and Provident has not, will not, and will now have to deal with subsidized competition as they're trying to lease up and stabilize their development.

    It is possible that Provident will have a separate deal worked out, but it may also be possible that Provident got snubbed for some reason. I don't care to speculate how they might've gotten snubbed or who might've engineered it if they were. Suffice it to say, somebody throught this through carefully.

  14. Well, the Texaco project planning is already well underway...so why give an incentive to promote an existing project?

    I agree with you in principle, however unless they've already got financing to move forward on the Texaco Building conversion, plans are mere ink on paper. Nothing more. It doesn't necessarily make them feasible. And in fact, if the City is aggressively encouraging other developers to build stuff nearby that would compete within a thin market, then that's a risk factor that might discourage prospective lenders.

  15. The medical area/district in Houston was impressive when we went thru there 2years ago... but The Parkland Medical District is BIGGER and is Growing. Also, there are various apartment complexes popping-up, giving it a Very "urbanesque" feel and look. They just broke ground on another apt complex (possible high-rise.

    And, the University of Texas buildings and facilities nearby actually ADD to the size of Parkland. I Love the Big D. !

    ps... this site is cool! I'm an architecture enthusiast . :)

    Your statements are factually incorrect.

    According to the Southwest Medical District's own website, there are only 1,923 licensed hospital beds, 26,878 employees and 4,590 students. It is comprised of only three member institutions spanning 390 acres.

    By comparison, the Texas Medical Center in Houston has 6,900 licensed hospital beds, 92,500 employees, 34,000 full time students. It is comprised of 52 member institutions spanning 1,300 acres.

    Furthermore, it has about as much built square footage as downtown Houston has office space (which for your reference, is 28% more than Dallas has in its entire downtown area, or can be thought of as the combined total amount of office space in both downtown Dallas and downtown Fort Worth combined).

    The ultimate capacity of the Texas Medical Center is 59 million square feet, or more than twice the square footage of downtown Dallas. Of course, I doubt that the TMC institutions would ever allow for a chronically high vacancy rate, pushing 27%, the way that downtown Dallas has been.

  16. Pretty sure that Walmart bought the land prior to development, maybe even prior to the 380.

    The 380 Agreement, signed and dated Sept. 28th, 2010, cited the following:

    "Whereas, Developer owns or has contracted to purchase certain tracts of land totalling approximately 23 acres...as depicted on the map...for the purpose of developing a multi-tenant commercial/retail development..."

    The deed conveyed to Wal-Mart Real Estate Business Trust and was recorded on October 19th, 2010.

    Wal-Mart would have had the land under contract at the time that the agreement was made, however would have made the contract contingent on the seller fulfilling a variety of commitments. That the seller was able to do so created value for the buyer and would have been built into the contracted purchase price of the site.

  17. The banks are telling him to carry balances on the cards, thus giving the credit card companies some interest profit.

    However, his score will go up even if he doesn't take that particular advice and just increases his amount of available credit by opening cards. It doesn't have to cost anything to increase the score.

    I increased my limits over the weekend. That helps the score, but only a little...and it actually hurts me at first. I have to establish a payment history to substantially increase the score.

  18. I think it is cute that bankers blame "regulators" for the ways that they screw the consumer. You know good and well who is to blame here. The FICO is designed for bankers and it rewards more borrowing. What a coincidence! That is also how banks make more money!

    I am not sure what caused your situation. I cut out virtually all credit card use in 2005, and it hasn't seemed to adversely affect my ability to borrow, though I have only bought a couple of cars since then...no mortgages. But, make no mistake, it ain't the government screwing you, it is the banks.

    It's probably both government and banks that are screwing me (and anybody else that thinks that they can get away with it). The difference however is that if regulators were intelligent, responsible, and honest, then they would act on their own in ways that banks may or may not like, but that would allow people with proven creditworthiness to obtain debt financing. They could act unilaterally in the public interest, but they are not, and so they should share in the blame.

    How does one game the system?

    Wait, don't answer that, I don't want to know.

    Anyway, you're doing it all wrong.

    You're putting your credit card under your mattress for an emergency and pay for every monthly expense with cash.

    Put emergency cash in a savings account (these days the interest rate makes it like putting it under your mattress), and pay for every monthly expense on the card, and pay off the card every month.

    What happens in your scenario is after an emergency you're paying someone 15 points every month until you get it down. I'm sure you're more experienced at amortization tables than me, but that is a lot of money when you look at your scenario of 5k for a few years. your normal monthly expenses aren't being leveraged to your benefit, and you're having something long and hard shoved somewhere you don't want.

    What happens in my scenario is that you have your emergency money sitting in a bank paying you 1 point (oh yay) until you have an emergency. Every month you have expenses that you normally pay with cash (gas, food, utilities, extraneous), put that cash in the bank, use your credit card, and send the credit card company a check when they send you a bill and pay off 100% of your credit card every month.

    I personally have a credit card that gives me points, using this method, I get about $500 worth of points a year, and I usually have them give me a gift card around thanksgiving for every penny of that $500 with which I use to buy Christmas gifts for family/friends.

    Only drawback to my method is that you have to be VERY responsible with your spending. It is very rewarding, and I have excellent standing with credit agencies.

    Yes, banks make money off my style of banking, way more than I do, but so long as I am making a little something too, it doesn't bother me in the slightest, especially when the alternative is that they still make bundles, and I end up footing a lot of that bill.

    Granted, I don't know if this gets you a short term solution.

    My liquid assets comprise a mix of sources. Cash, checking, stocks, a short term promissory note, etc. I feel good about how I keep my assets. You're right that I should start putting as many of my expenses on credit cards as possible and paying them down almost completely each month. That's the easiest part, but it will not yield immediate results.

    What happens in your scenario is after an emergency you're paying someone 15 points every month until you get it down. I'm sure you're more experienced at amortization tables than me, but that is a lot of money when you look at your scenario of 5k for a few years. your normal monthly expenses aren't being leveraged to your benefit, and you're having something long and hard shoved somewhere you don't want.

    Once I was able to see that there would be tough times ahead, I immediately began marketing my least liquid assets and converting them to cash when possible. (There was one asset that I couldn't sell or refi-, so my only purpose in life was to protect it.) I drew down my holdings of stock in the mean time. Having done that and after it became clear that the situation was an emergency, I totally liquidated my remaining stock and retirement accounts and charged everything to credit that I could, using my last remaining cash reserves to pay only minimum amounts for as long as possible. It got down to where I had only enough cash for a couple of weeks of personal expenses before there was any income that kept me afloat. I got really close to defaulting on a lot of stuff all at once, but barely pulled through.

    I think that I managed my finances and expenses well enough, although in hindsight I probably should've swallowed my pride and been begging on a street corner for at least a few hours per day to help on the income side of things.

  19. If you want to think that Walmart wanted the bridge beautified but has no interest in whether it actually exists or not, that's perfectly ok with me. If you think that a bridge on the main throughfare to the Walmart is of no concern to Walmart, that is also fine with me. Cosmetic upgrades often make sense, perhaps even if they are only temporary. (In the long run, everything is temporary.) It appears from the agreement between the City and Ainbinder--not Walmart--that the City did retain the right to shift funds to some project other than balusters if they had wanted to. They didn't. I tend to agree that that was a mistake on their part, but that was the consequence of poor administration of their agreement rather than that the agreement itself was bad.

    If you want to think that, as Mayor Parker said over and over, that the 380 has nothing to do with Walmart that is also fine with me. Good. I am glad that it's fine with you.

    If you don't what hyperbole means, that's also ok with me. Pot meet kettle.

    If I have more news that I think will be of interest, I will post it. Fantastic. Please do so in a thread that is directly related to the news that you are sharing.

  20. It is their 18 wheeler traffic that is the reason this all came to light in the first place. West End residents did not want Walmart's 18 wheeler traffic cutting through their neighborhood and raised the issue to the City at the big public meeting when the news of the Walmart first broke. The City responded (assumedly with input from Walmart as Walmart was a participant in the public meeting) that Walmart's 18 wheelers would take Yale St.--problem solved. But then people found out that the bridge was load limited and could not handle 18 wheelers. The response to that from the City and Walmart was complete silence. Then, people looked at the underside of the bridge and saw that the bridge was in bad shape. TxDOT inspects the bridge and twice lowers the load limits down to 3k per axel. Now, the bridge could be closed any day if an inspection reveals further degradation. The City is scrambling to come up with temporary repairs, and it won't be until 2016 that the bridge gets replaced to be able to accomodate Walmart's 18 wheelers.

    I don't care how it was discovered that the bridge was in poor shape. There are probably lots of bridges in poor condition that Wal-Mart trucks pass over thousands of times per day throughout the country, but that we just don't know about because there hasn't been some sort of unrelated controversy nearby. Wal-Mart is not responsible for ensuring that government infrastructure is up to snuff. That's the government's job.

    Thankfully, there are alternatives.

    In the meantime, Walmart is the direct beneficiary of 6 mil in public funds to pay for the infrastructure needed to get roads, drainage, and jogging trails upgraded for the development. The premises of providing tax payer money to the benefit of the richest retailer in the world is that it would benefit the community by taking care of needed infrastructure upgrades before the development opened. The agreement could have easily been modified to make the bridge the subject of the agreement and have the developer pay for the remainder of the upgrades that could not be funded in the 380 agreement (as every developer has had to do prior to Mayor Parker handing out 380 agreements like they were campaign flyers). That would have gotten bridge construction done by now and minimized the burden on the community, including Walmart and the rest of the tenants. But this never happened. There was never any mention of even trying to do it. Walmart and the developer just took what they could get from the community and have offered nothing to help get the bridge fixed so Walmart's 18 wheelers will have clear access to the development. The City primarly gets the blame. But, Walmart and the developer do not get a free pass. They could have stepped up and helped taken care of this problem, but did not.

    IIRC, the direct beneficiary of the 380 Agreement was Ainbinder. Wal-Mart was not a party to the 380 Agreement. It was therefore an indirect beneficiary; however, whatever economic benefits were generated would have been captured in the sale price of the land as Ainbinder transferred it to Wal-Mart.

    The agreement might have covered the bridge, but as Red points out, that would've been grossly irresponsible on the part of the City of Houston.

    I'm sure that Ainbinder, Wal-Mart, the neighborhoods, and the City would all have preferred that the bridge get re-built concurrent with the construction of the feeder roads and prior to the completion of the development...but oh well, that just sucks. So it's up to TXDoT. You should send them letters imploring them to replace the bridge sooner than later. But I don't see how it involves Wal-Mart or how it might be particularly controversial.

  21. Suggesting that someone commit suicide is reprehensible.

    Oh, go cry me a river and drown in it. Hyperbole is only a rhetorical device, nothing more.

    I ask again, what does this bridge have to do with the Wal-Mart?

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