Unbagged Cats and Other Secrets of the West End Walmart Emails

Among the revelations in the packet of emails reporter Miya Shay recently received in response to a 3-month-old public-records request: City officials learned from Ainbinder Company as early as June 11th that the big-box store indicated on plans for the company’s Washington Heights shopping center in the West End would be a Walmart. Swamplot readers first heard reports of the company’s plans on July 1st. But as late as July 13th, the city development director’s deputy apparently felt it necessary to ward his boss off plans to keep the details or intentions behind the city’s infrastructure-improvement agreement with Ainbinder a secret: Tim Douglass writes development director Andy Icken, “Frankly, it’s a little too late to try and ‘sneak’ this through council. The cat is out of the bag.”


As early as March 5th, an official from the city’s public works department told engineers working for Ainbinder that the proposed development at Koehler and Yale would not be required to provide any additional stormwater drainage or any detention ponds — because the previous development on the site (scraped away a few years ago) had had even more concrete on the ground than what Ainbinder was proposing. Nevertheless, a website advertising the development promises the developers will provide drainage improvements “as required by the city.” Similar language is included in the 380 agreement passed by city council in September. That agreement includes a list of proposed drainage improvements and on-site rainwater detention estimated to cost more than $900,000, but it appears the developer won’t be required to complete any of them. Under the terms of the agreement, costs for any of the items that the developer does construct would be reimbursed by city tax receipts.

By late July, Walmart had what Douglass terms its “counter offensive” against neighborhood opposition in full gear. After developing a website, the company commissioned a phone survey with the purpose of identifying project supporters; Walmart also approached people on its “very strong” list of supporters in the Heights to send letters to city council members. It appears the company also employed the services of local strategic communications firm One World Strategy Group. The contact info of that company’s Jeri Brooks (featured in this entertaining video medley of One World training concerns) appears at the bottom of an email meant to convince council member Ed Gonzalez — who ultimately voted against the city agreement — that the developers had been working closely with city officials for some time.

57 Comment

  • I personally don’t care if it’s WalMart or SmallMart, I just don’t like the way this whole deal was hushed.

    Parker just looks so smug while defending the city’s actions. She’s not at all worried about the Heights folks and their facebook friends. 6000 negative votes will probably not make a dent in the next mayoral election. One thing the Heights folks seem to forget is that the Houston city limits extend far beyond their little neighborhood. And Parker knows that.

  • Close enough to matter……

    Annise Parker 81,971 52.8%
    Gene Locke 73,331 47.2%

    I am sure she will piss a few more folks off before it is all over.

  • Good news to me… Now there’s a chance the lines will be shorter when I shop there!

  • Pyewacket, I agree on the hush part. Though I don’t agree on the far reach of her voter support.

    She also has a problem with the preservation ordinance. A lot of her strongest supporters aren’t digging the way that is playing out. I know I voted for her and will not again.

    Put the No Walmart and the No Ordinance folks together with the pumped-up super conservative Republicans and she might be facing a reelection nightmare.

  • Wow, these guys need to learn to communicate potentially inflamatory ideas and phrases by phone.

  • I fail to see what is particularly surprising or even controversial about any of this. The Mayor supported this project from the beginning (as many Houstonian’s do) prior to Walmart stepping up as the anchor.

    Of course they knew when Walmart stepped up as the anchor that it would not be popular with some in the community, and when you start talking about 6,000 people on a facebook page….I think you need to differentiate between those who are passionately opposed to the project and those that think its a trendy to be anti-Walmart. I don’t think all 6,000 people on the stop Walmart facebook page are going to base their voting decision on Walmart in the next mayoral election. 50% of them won’t even vote, 25% of them just think its cool to be anti Walmart and the other 25% won’t forget and will vote for Parkers opponent. So maybe she lost 1,500 votes at best.

    I didn’t vote for Parker in the last election but I likely will in the next.I like her pro-business attitude.

  • I voted for Gene Locke for Mayor and I would love to do so again. One of the major criticisms/allegations made against Gene was that he was in the pocket of developers. Then you have Ainbinder & Frank Liu get major projects approved by the Parker Administration – and BOTH with taxpayer money – faster than you can put away your Annise Parker yard signs. All you smarty-pants in the Heights – this is YOUR doing. YOU put her in office. FYI.

  • I smell Mayor Bob all over Mayor Parker.
    just sayin’

  • From pantryboss:
    I smell Mayor Bob all over Mayor Parker.

    Did not need that mental image running though my head. …and then the thought of you sniffing at them, afterwards, voraciously, like some kind of ill-mannered mutt.

  • I don’t think Parker’s pro-business or pro-community, just pro-Parker.

    I won’t forget the water rate increases, favoring homeowner voters over renters and businesses instead of being fair across the board…and I’m a homeowner.

  • “Don’t blame me. I didn’t vote for her…”

  • I’m antiWalmart and I’ll vote for her again. Seriously, rich lawyers with lots of city council pull couldn’t legally stop Ashby so realistically what were the chances Walmart (or anyone else) could have been stopped here? Houstonians keep voting to have no zoning to reduce red tape so businesses can be established easier. There’s your guilty party in all this mess, not the mayor.


  • you really have to be in a damned if you do, damned if you don’t mindset if you wish you would’ve voted for Locke.

  • The big losers in this are the local business that will have to compete with Walmart. But that’s the American way, I guess.

  • but more to it, nothing discussed above is the least bit eye-opening. all of it is standard practice when opening up a large chain store anywhere and it’s the same tactics employed by a vociferous opposition.

    what scares me more is the mindset that we think our mayors should be trying to pull some backhanded deal to break the law whenever it suits them/there’s a vociferous opposition. we have no zoning for a reason, so projects like wal-mart or ashby highrise can help the city move forward for the sake of a few million people rather than grind to a halt in the name of a few.

    saying you’re not going to vote for parker because she’s not willing to break our no-zoning laws for you is a bit twisted. besides, it’s your fault you’re not a doctor and can’t afford to hire a lawyer to do the arm-twisting for you.

  • It is not about voilating the “no zoning” law -it is that she accepted a 10k contribution from a developer and then turned around and pushed for a $6 Million tax break for the same developer. 6 million to do work that the developer said they would do anyways? Think about this people…..

  • Hold the phone…

    Did I just read that taxpayers are paying for over $900,000.00 in rainwater detention on private property?????? Ummmm, isn’t that wrong? Shouldn’t one of those news reporters be asking some questions about that? Does every developer get storm detention on the taxpayer’s dime from now on? Does that mean I can use Walmart’s property taxes to pay to install a french drain on my property?

  • joel said: “saying you’re not going to vote for parker because she’s not willing to break our no-zoning laws for you is a bit twisted.”

    I’m not voting for her because her beloved preservation ordinance is just zoning in disguise. She’s willing to find a way around our no-zoning laws for that, but the Walmart is ok.

    FYI: I don’t give a flip about Walmart being built, though I’m personally not a Walmart shopper. I’m a supporter of property owner’s rights.

  • So why all the public meeting posturing? Why have any meetings with the opposition if it was a done deal from the beginning?

    Were they, Ainbinder and Lovell and all just laughing behind the Heights folks backs? It doesn’t make good sense to me. What could they gain by being overtly dishonest? Forget that, I guess it’s only overt if the cat gets out of the bag.

    I won’t vote for Parker again because I don’t like her two facedness. But I wouldn’t vote for Locke either because I still have a bad taste in my mouth from the Out-of-town Brown days.

  • Let’s clarify.

    The developer is not required to build extra drainage improvements on their site. They would not have built them if the City weren’t paying for them. The City apparently wanted them so they City is paying for them via a 380 agreement, which happens to work really well as a form of public/private partnership. (And it should be noted that stormwater detention wherever it happens to be located is benefiting neighborhoods downstream, not where the detention is sited.)

    So…the developer gets to do what the developer wants to do and the City gets the drainage improvements that they want. Both of them get to make use of the same land and the same work crew to accomplish it, the City is indemnified for the quality of the construction, and nobody’s toes get stepped on.

  • Niche:

    You know nothing about this. Detention for InTown homes IS required. No plans had been submitted for Walmart when the City decided to pay for onsite detention in the Ainbinder 380 agreement. The City did not know whether detention would be needed or not. This is what CM Costello said. The drones in the development office tried to play engineer and talked about the entire site being concrete. This was not true. There were dirt pipe yards. Walmart will increase impervious cover and be required to do detention. Finally, detention is for the benefit of the landowner, not the neighbor. If the landowner doesn’t do detention and floods the neighbors, the landowner can be liable for diverting flood waters under the Texas Water Code (private right of action). Oh yeah, another fun fact for people like you who like to spout on like you know everyting but don’t: yes, InTown homes indemnifies the City in their 380 agreement, but guess who doesn’t have to indemnify the City in their 380 agreement . . . . .wait for it. .. .you know what is coming. . . . just a little longer. . . . AINBINDER!!!!

  • TheNiche is correct. The stormwater detention ordinance is specific about not requiring more detention if the amount of impervious groundcover is equal to or less than what was there before. While ‘detention’ claims that the pipe yards were dirt, the satellite views that I’ve looked at do not suggest such. Perhaps ‘detention’ could provide some photographs that prove his point. Otherwise, his (and others) are arguing that the City commit illegal acts by denying a company the right to do business. They’ll lose that argument every time.

  • It is irrelevant what any other City ordinance says about detention. The City specifically gives up any right to enforce other Ordinances on the property about matters addressed in the Aindinder 380. The development is only governed by the Ainbinder 380.

  • All these folks against this Walmart are gonna be the same folks shopping there once it opens. As much as they don’t want it there, there is no stopping it now.

  • For the record, Lanier endorsed Locke, not Parker. Im sure by then Gene and Jarvis will be grooming Ronald Green for a run.

    By the time of the next mayoral election, this whole thing will have blown over, the Heights hysterics will have something more current to fume over, the area will have nice, white curbs and sidewalks, and droves of Heights teenagers and seniors will be employed at WalMart that would not have been otherwise. Indignation has a short shelf life.

  • Stormwater detention is a public good with a regional impact. The evidence for that should be ample. Furthermore, the placement of new detention capacity so close to White Oak Bayou is really quite intuitive. If you want to argue otherwise, you’re welcome to…just know that you’d be discrediting yourself in the eyes of anyone in a position to actually influence the 380.

    As for the Texas Water Code, you’re grossly misapplying it to this situation. The way you’re trying to apply it, a home-owner in Meyerland would incur a financial liability when the Texas Medical Center floods.

    And as for the indemnification, I sincerely doubt that the City would reimburse Ainbinder for stormwater detention if the stormwater detention did not function as intended.

  • Why are people who shop at and support WalMart so arrogant and insecure? They always have rude things to say about people who don’t like WalMart. Why? Why take it personally? Are they all Waltons? I couldn’t care less who shops where. I haven’t spent a dime in a WalMart or Sam’s in more than 10 years and plan never to. Why does this infuriate some? It’s my money. I don’t give a flip that you don’t shop where I choose to. Lots of insecure freaks on this blog.

  • John, you’ve got it the other way around. We don’t care whether you shop at Wal-Mart or not. We’re just all pissed off that other people are trying to impede on our freedom to be Wal-Mart shoppers.

  • John:
    I agree there is no need to make rude comments about those who post anti-Walmart entries, or about those who support Walmart. A good example would be to not accuse posters of being “arrogant” and “insecure freaks”.

  • The niche, who is trying to impede on your right to be a walmart shopper!? Go drive out to one right now. And if you wait a year or so, there are going to be two more within five minutes of the heights location. Hyperbole, much?

  • John, I think the negativity shown to the heights and West Enders may actually be schadenfreude.

  • Gene Locke would have been for this project without any of Parker’s pretense. The city has never cared about the neighborhoods (except the couple with with lots and lots of money) and it never will.

    In this case, all of those oppossed have only the option of staying away–and anything near the Wal Mart. Which does for our country’s trade deficit a favor since virtually everything in War Mart is Chinese-made junk.

  • Mel: I prefer shopping at Wal-Mart, however won’t go there with as great a frequency if it isn’t located along my commute. If the proposed Yale Street Wal-Mart were to be blocked, I would be materially inconvenienced and for absolutely no good reason other than that some people don’t seem to approve of my Wal-Mart-shopping lifestyle.

  • From d:
    The big losers in this are the local business that will have to compete with Walmart.
    Next time I have to buy some bad art I can now go to Walmart!

  • Niche:

    You now show that you are just a pretender. The determination of impervious cover is not made by looking at aerial photographs. It is made by comparing the survey of the old use with a diagram of the proposed new use. The old Trinity steel plant and Heights Armature Works did not concrete over the entire lot. They left open a couple of acres which were dirt pipe yards. The new development will increase impervious cover by several acres and be required to add stormwater detention.
    Stormwater detention is not a public works project. It is private infrastructure. It mostly prevents flooding on the private property. Your Meyerland example proves my point.
    Finally, the Texas Water Code claim would belong to the people living in the immediate neighborhood (Bonner townhomes, Koehler, etc.), not to distant residents of the Heights. And Texas Water Code claims can include injunctive relief. So, the City (i.e. our tax dollars) paying for detention is a major tax give away to a private entity and not a public works project.

  • Detention:

    I am not RedScare. I have not looked at the old aerial photos, nor have I personally made a claim about impervious cover. I’m just going by the content of these e-mails as I understand them. Nevertheless, I think that it is more likely that RedScare is correct than that you are correct.

    Furthermore, my Meyerland example proves that your point is absurd. You said it yourself, “the landowner can be liable for DIVERTING flood waters under the Texas Water Code.” What does diverting mean to you? To me, an example of diverting would be changing the natural contours of the land so that stormwater runoff goes onto a property that it normally would not. By my reading, if the Wal-Mart site is engineered in such a way as that stormwater runoff follows the path of the natural contours and is generally heading towards White Oak Bayou, which would be appropriate because this site is within that watershed, then stormwaters have not been DIVERTED in such a way as that the landowner would be liable for flood damages further downstream.

    I could be wrong; I’m not a lawyer. But that’s my understanding of the definition of the word “diverted” is that it constitutes a change in path.

  • Niche, now I get it. Apparently you have deemed your right to shop at Walmart as more worthy of protection than the right of the homeowners on and around Yale to enjoy their property.

  • Objection to walmart, is more a class/snobbery issue than anything else. I have yet to see one compelling argument, including their spokes person. Sorry make your peace with it, I don’t see a single one of you complaining about the new whole foods on Waugh either. Were this a new central market you west end(ers) and pseudo Heights (more realistically Rice Military) you would be there waiting with baited breath until the grand opening. Instead you’ll likely sneak in under the cover of darkness, buy your pet food for your oversized dog, and some charcoal, and likely a case of lonestar too since it’s on the cheap. Face the facts, it’s a WalMart in a very under utilized piece of land, right off a highway, and is not better served as a grass field of nothingness. Get over it, and get over this topic, it’s tired.

  • Considering all the concern for low-income residents listed as one of the big reasons to welcome this particular Wal-Mart, I’m certain that many of you can be counted on to volunteer on November 25 for the 32nd Annual Thanksgiving Big Feast or Christmas Eve Big Feast at the GRB. Help is needed for everything from serving meals to picking up trash – just sign up here and glad to have you!


  • Say what you want about Walmart, it is one of the few places which is still open 24 hours, as such it is indispensable to night owls like myself.

    Most other places which used to have 24 hour locations (Home Depot, HEB, etc) fired all their night employees in the wake of the recession to shave costs..


  • From Corey:
    Objection to walmart, is more a class/snobbery issue than anything else. I have yet to see one compelling argument, including their spokes person. Sorry make your peace with it, I don’t see a single one of you complaining about the new whole foods on Waugh either.
    What is the proximity of the Waugh Whole Foods to the Heights? Further, is the Waugh Whole Foods going to be open 24 hours a day? How many times a day is a Whole Foods truck going to travel up and down Heights and Yale? What are the crime stats for Whole Foods parking lots? What are the Whole Foods employment practices? As for snobbery, what do you base that on? According to consumer reports, Walmart is beaten by Target on pricing– which Target somehow manages without illegal employmenet practices. We already have a Target. Moreover, have you been to the Heights? If there is a better example in Houston of the haves and have-nots happily co-exisitng, I haven’t seen it. I consider myself to be squarely in the middle. On my block, there are retired folks, teachers, lawyers, architects, doctors, city employees, laborers, machinists and my neighbors support themselves by holding a garage sale every month. My block is a good example of the typical Heights neighborhood-blue and white collar families happily living and raising our families and educating our children together. To accuse Heights residents of “snobbery” seems a little, well, weird. Further, if you feel the need to shop at Walmart, please visit the other two within five driving minutes of the proposed Heights location.

  • Hellsing, I haven’t weighed in on this thread, and inferring from the tone of things, I’ll probably be less affected than others by this Wal-Mart.
    But, um… I already do volunteer my time. People’s volunteer time is always needed, so if you’re just being an opportunistic recruiter who’s slightly off topic for this thread, then that’s fine with me. And I applaud you for getting involved.
    But if you’re trying to imply that if one is anti-zoning in Houston — or if one favors a store that sells items priced so poorer people can afford them — must therefore volunteer their time to the homeless (or else feel damn guilty about what terrible people they are), then I have to disagree.

  • Yeah, I’d like to think he’s sincere but who knows? It was a strange way to hijack.

  • Mel, the Wal-Mart enhances the ability of many property owners (and renters, who benefit the property owners) to enjoy their property. I am among them!

    Why do you hate me so?

  • Um, no….just trying to strike where an iron could be hot. If awareness has been raised by some of the arguments concerning the difficulties many people are having in the current economic climate, some may want to help out in lieu of the same TG day routine. Just a suggestion; ignore as you please.

  • Niche,
    Fabulous. I did not realize that this is all about you. Now I know! :-)

  • Uhm would you like a cup of duh with that? I acknowledged it isn’t technically the Heights, and I do make a clear distinction: “Were this a new central market you west end(ers) and pseudo Heights (more realistically Rice Military)”. I love the Heights I love the people who live there, I just see no problem with some development on a very empty lot across I10 from the Heights, and yes I know it used to extend past i10 etc. I do know my history pretty well. I only moved out of Rice Military in July so again I do have a vested interest, and good knowledge of the area. Don’t like Wal-Mart and it’s crap, just don’t shop there. Simple enough, and yeah 24 hours is handy.

  • It’s certainly not all about Heights folks either.

  • Holding either Whole Foods or Walmart up as a paragon of employee rights would be mistake Mel. Target provides health insurance benefits to a smaller percentage of their employees than Walmart and requires them to work for the company longer before providing them. Whole Foods has engaged in vigorous attempts to prevent employees organising at a number of locations, firing employees who try to organize for various trumped up reasons and even closing one store that came close to organizing. Whole Foods has also bankrolled lobbying efforts that prevent farmworkers from organising. Of Walmart John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods, has this to say.

    “I probably admire Wal-Mart more than any other company in the world (except for maybe Whole Foods!). What a great, great company! Wal-Mart has single handedly driven down retail prices across America. They have improved the standard of living for millions and millions of American people. Also Wal-Mart is crushing the parasitical unions across America. I love Wal-Mart!”

  • Jimbo, so now, to be opposed to Walmart, I also have to oppose Whole Foods? Also, where did I say I “support” the Whole Foods? And, what else do I have to be opposed to? These rules seem pretty arbitrary to me.

    I can’t link the site, but there is a great
    article at the Houston Press about teh continuation of the gangsta’ paradise we all get to enjoy thanks to our mayor, Ainbender and Walmart. Love that money!

  • From PYEWACKET2:
    It’s certainly not all about Heights folks either.
    Well, that’s pretty obvious!

  • I just thought as you asked what Whole Foods employment practices were you might be interested. I’m not suggesting that you have to be opposed to or support any one store or another. What I would question is the suggestion that somehow Target in particular treat their employees any better or that they regulate the employment practices of their suppliers any better. They don’t.

  • What’s so wrong with unions? Opening pandoras box….?

  • Jimbo, Then you need to read my whole post. An earlier poster, Corey, implied that it is hypocritical to oppose walmart and not whole foods– to which I responded with questions about whole foods, trying to unferstand the point he/she was making I still don’t understand why I must oppose whole foods simply because I am opposed to the heights walmart.

  • Different strokes for different folks I guess. Whole Foods <3.. WalMart EVIL CORPORATION.. Sorry that’s a preference, and certainly doesn’t constitute a reason for opposing the building of a WalMart, in a pretty vacant area.