November 28, 2008

Good Commentary on WC City Council’s Tone Deafness Regarding the Neiman Marcus Project

Don Huggins, a Walnut Creek resident, asserts that the Walnut Creek City Council is to blame for the costs the city would bear if opponents of the proposed Neiman Marcus project succeed in forcing a voter referendum on the issue. He makes this assertion in Friday’s Walnut Creek Journal. Below is his commentary. I’d provide a link to the commentary on the Contra Costa Times website, but the site has been acting screwy, freezing up my computer when I click on to any story.

But before I share the commentary, I just want to say that I don’t care whether or not Walnut Creek gets its Neiman Marcus. I’m not a big shopper, and a lot of the stuff at “Needless Markup” would be out of my price range anyway. Maybe Neiman Marcus will bring retail prestige to the city. Ooo-ahhh. Maybe our city leaders have big egos and want to be the local political leaders who brought Neiman Marcus to Walnut Creek!

Word is that Neiman Marcus put pressure on the Walnut Creek City Council to speed through the approval process by saying it could locate its next department store in a neighboring city, like San Ramon, in its new, one-day city center. (As if even a Neiman Marcus could ever turn San Ramon into a new high-end Bay Area shopping destination. Puh-lease.)

The main thing that I scratch my head over, with regard to this project, and the source of a lot of head shaking among Walnut Creek friends is the additional parking burden Neiman Marcus will place on downtown Walnut Creek. We scratch and shake our heads in utter disbelief that city leaders, Broadway Plaza, and Neiman Marcus would suggest solving any Neiman Marcus-related parking increases by instituting valet parking. Specifically, transforming the public garage behind Macys and Crate and Barrel into valet parking during peak shopping times. Are these people kidding?

Anyway, here is what Mr. Huggins articulately said:

City to Blame for Neiman Marcus situation

Do you wonder why Walnut Creek will likely face a voter referendum on the Neiman Marcus/Macerich project, plus a lawsuit challenging the EIR for the project?

First, go back to December 2003, when the city commissioned a scientific survey of Walnut Creek residents to get “valuable input” for their new 20-year general plan. Results showed that the majority of residents wanted growth to slow, development to be limited, traffic and parking to be improved and retention of building height limits—among other things. Not what the city wanted to hear!

So they ignored the input, but repeatedly took credit for surveying the residents while avoiding any mention of the results.

I brought up the survey on various occasions and received no response or opportunity for discussion. Finally, I received a letter from Kathy Hicks, the mayor at the time, in which she lectured me on the difference between a referendum—which the city has an obligation to follow (if passed)—and a survey, for which there is no such obligation.

Mayor Hicks’ letter revealed a lot. First, there was no challenge of my claim that the city was ignoring the solicited input of the majority of its recipients. Secondly, it tells us that they have no problem ignoring the majority. Thirdly, and most importantly, it tells us that if the majority wants to be heard they need to use the referendum process.

Skip forward to the new library project, which voters rejected the funding twice. The city went ahead with the expensive project anyway, even though they had not figured out the total funding for construction or operation.

And now the Neiman Marcus/Macerich project. Again, I pointed out to the City Council that their December 2003 scientific survey makes it clear that the majority of residents would not support this project package, especially the parking proposal, and in a representative government who are they supposed to be representing? Again, no response. And Macerich, working with the city, was so sure of the project approvals that they arranged for David M. Brian to vacate the project site before approvals were granted.

Much to everyone’s surprise, an anonymous entity opposing the project has gathered signatures for a referendum and is funding a legal challenge of the EIR. This has caused the city to go ballistic. Who dare challenge the City Council’s authority? Note that by opposing the petition-gathering for a referendum the city was trying to take away the only means left for its residents to be heard.

It’s obvious that the city is afraid of the results of the referendum. They complain about the cost of a special election, but it’s clear that the city brought it on themselves.


Anonymous said...

I like walnut creek bringing neiman marcus in. wat's wrong with that. it will be good for the city all those people need to stop complaning.

Anonymous said...

Neiman Marcus arriving in our fair City may or may not be a good thing for the citizens of Walnut Creek. However, what is NOT good is the willingness of the City Council to bend all of their rules that have been placed there to protect over development in the downtown area. If the Council had in fact listened with open minds to the ordinary citizens who testified at the hearings they would have never voted to allow Neiman to have the whole pie instead of the half they deserved. No matter what, if Neiman Marcus doesn't come to WC, the whole downtown area will not perish as predicted by the CC Times and the denizens of City Hall.