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May 25, 2009

Chair of new pro-Neiman Marcus group reveals how and why supporters are fighting for this store to come to Broadway Plaza

The City Council's approval of Broadway Plaza's new Neiman Marcus plan has not at all settled the debate over whether the Dallas-based luxury retail department store can make a home in Walnut Creek.



In fact, debate grew more heated over the weekend. Signature gatherers, likely funded by rival mall developer, Taubman, were out in force in downtown Saturday, hoping to once again force the issue to a citywide vote. Meanwhile, a new group of pro-Neiman Marcus supporters has emerged. Calling itself Yes For Walnut Creek, the group claims to have support from more than 1,000 civic and business leaders and residents.



I dashed off an e-mail with a list of questions to the organization, and the chair, Brad Kofoed quickly responded. Some interesting revelations include:



--The group, he says, is not being funded by Macerich, the owner of Broadway Plaza, or Neiman Marcus.
--Not surprisingly, the group believes that Neiman Marcus would be an amazing addition to Walnut Creek's famed downtown retail
scene--even essential
--Although Neiman Marcus would like to come to Walnut Creek, there is no guarantee that it will ultimately open a store here.

Read more for yourself, and thanks Mr. Kofoed for responding to my questions.

Q: When and how did your organization start?
A: Just after our city council met about two or three weeks ago, after it became clear that Taubman was determined to try to overturn this process once again, several residents, civic, business and non-profit leaders got together to discuss our concerns about this outside interference.


Q: Who is funding Yes for Walnut Creek?
A: Initially we had volunteers design our flyer, and the 20 or 30 people who attended our first meeting contributed enough to cover cost of photo copies and a couple of ads. Since then others have begun to contribute.


Q: Is Macerich a contributor?
A: No, nor is Broadway Plaza or Neiman Marcus.


Q: You are seeking donations? For what purposes? Legal expenses to fight the lawsuit? Campaign expenses in case the issue is once again forced onto a citywide ballot?
A: Mainly to pay for the costs of getting our message out. Printing, ads, etc.


Q: I see that you have an FPPC number for the Fair Political Practices Commission, correct? So, does Yes for Walnut Creek constitute a political campaign?
A: We are a community group formed to specifically battle this outside interference. This referendum drive, as well as the nefarious legal maneuvers, paid for by Michigan-based Taubman Co (NYSE:TCO), which owns Sunvalley Mall and likely has interests in other regional centers in development, is a perversion of our referendum and legal system. We are people who live, work, and own property and businesses in Walnut Creek. We are defending our homes from an outside bully.


Q: Is your organization just about fighting for Neiman Marcus?
A: It is about outside interference. It is about jobs in Walnut Creek. It is about the revenue to our city that pays for everything from parks and open space to the arts to city recreation programs for kids, to police, to transit services and shuttles to school crossing guards.


Q: Is Neiman Marcus really that vital to Walnut Creek's future?
A: In this case, it is. Somebody will occupy the space vacated by David Brian. And they are also supportive of Neiman Marcus. Who would we prefer to be there? This Neiman Marcus will be about half the size of Nordstrom and really just extend the current David Brian footprint to the corner. But they are putting in a nice seating area in that corner too. We have a chance to have one of the nation's premier retailers move into Broadway Plaza. While many of us will never shop at Neiman Marcus, many people do. And when they do, they will also shop in other stores, eat at our restaurants, and do business in Walnut Creek. This is why so many small mom and pop merchants, as well as the other large tenants, such as Nordstrom and Macys want Neiman Marcus.


Q: Is there any written guarantee that Neiman Marcus will come to Walnut Creek? Luxury retailers are struggling. … What if Neiman Marcus doesn't make it? This is a concern some readers of this blog have expressed.
A: There is no guarantee. It is not legal or feasible for anyone to "guarantee" that they will come. This has to do with land use law. However, Neiman Marcus is very selective as to where they go. They have very specifically said they want to be in Walnut Creek. They have invested a tremendous amount of money in designs and planning. They have attended meetings in Walnut Creek, and we have no reason to believe they won't come. Macerich is a leading mall company and has tremendous knowledge in this area. I can guarantee one thing: If this project gets derailed by Taubman, they won't come. Which is exactly what Taubman wants. It has been reported that others have attempted to get Neiman to commit to be in San Ramon's new city center, which they declined.


Q: Are Walnut Creek leaders and members of your organization truly worried that San Ramon could pose a threat to Walnut Creek's downtown retail scene?
A: Sales tax and the associated quality of life in Walnut Creek is something that virtually every regional center has aspired to. Look at what has been done in Pleasant Hill. We must be mindful of what has given Walnut Creek its tremendous strength and quality of life. Broadway Plaza has played an enormous role in this.


Q: I heard from the owner of one once successful boutique who has just gone out of business. This owner was concerned that the city seemed less focused on helping small businesses and more on nabbing Neiman Marcus.
A: I have many personal friends who own small businesses in Walnut Creek, and they are extremely supportive of this project because of the foot traffic and clientele it will attract for their businesses. This will help small businesses.


Q: Who would shop at Neiman Marcus? Would it be mostly local Walnut Creek residents? Or people coming from outside the community?
A: There are a large number of people from the East Bay, including those within our community who currently travel to San Francisco to shop at Neiman Marcus.


Q: Just so you know, I am neither pro- nor anti-Neiman Marcus. Also, I can't vote on the issue because I live in unincorporated Wallnut Creek. However, I have written critically about how the city handled the initial project proposal, especially with regard to the city accepting the idea of turning the Broadway Plaza garage into valet parking during peak shopping times.
A: The new parking plan creates 175 new parking spaces using the same kind of lifts that are in use at Harvard Medical School (they have 250 of them). These lifts will be used by employees only and will not only free up a huge amount of parking but also make much more efficient use of existing space rather than the environmental impact that building a new garage would have.


Q: These days, I am just amazed by how this debate has escalated to this level.
A: I am bewildered. If you have attended or watched the last three city council meetings you will have observed the overwhelming, and strong, public support for this project. The only reason this continues to be an issue is the funding and despicable interference by Taubman who has paid for the referendum drives (past and present), legal and opposition political consultants. They do not own one foot of real estate in Walnut Creek. This can be smelt from very far away.


Recent Crazy in Suburbia Neiman Marcus stories:







16 comments:

Anonymous said...

No surprises here. Sounds like an attorney wrote these very carefully crafted answers to your insightful questions Mom.

I have doubts about the real "grassroots" of this group and am in awe of how they have whipped people into shape so quickly. Was told personally that two (2) members of Council (so as not to compromise the Brown Act) were participating at formation planning meetings and of course the ever present Chamber of Commerce leadership. Notice how they come out for the big stuff but don't provide much leadership for small, local businesses?

Hey, if nothing else, this whole thing is good for our local economy if in fact everyone is using area printers, mail houses, etc.

DumbAsBricks said...

So what is the environmental impact of needlessly printing out all of these flyers?

I think more focus needs to be put on the small businesses. They are dropping like flies and no one seems to care.

By ignoring the small businesses and putting all of our energy into the NM BS, we are losing the character of our downtown.

Fast track the NM plans. Pull an all nighter. Commit people!

Anonymous said...

There can't be many opponents to the NM project, but why are both of them posting on this blog?

Anonymous said...

If you live in Walnut Creek you are such a douchebag.

Anonymous said...

I never shop at NM myself, but I'm all in favor of one being in WC, for the business that it will bring to the town. Any big magnet store or business generates side business for others in the area, and this will, too. I hope it makes it!

Anonymous said...

So, Soccer Mom, where is the line when a group needs to be registers with the Fair Political Practices Commission?

probably community or homeowner associations do not, but this article implies that groups that form in order to fight a specific development do need to register.

Are you investigating any other groups you have highlighted in recent months in your blog to see if they are registered?

I can think of one that fits the same bill as the group you interviewed.

Old Fart said...

Well, well, Soccer Mom, it seems you have done it this time: unintendedly exposed a group you personally support for quite possibly violating political campaign laws.

Anon 8:59 is right: this is just like the Sufi development and the group called SOS - the SOS are like this pro-NM group but in reverse. They are not like a homeowner or community association.

They explicitly ONLY exist for the purpose of being opposed to the Sufi development - so as your reporting states - it seems they should be registered.

Are they?

now where was that anonymous 800 tip line for the FPPC again?

oh here it is - the link and the description:

http://www.fppc.ca.gov/index.html?id=498

"C. Anonymous Complaints: Toll Free "tip line" 800-561-1861

If you do not want your name disclosed in connection with your complaint under any circumstances, you may call 800-561-1861 on Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to Noon and 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., and make the complaint anonymously. Commission staff will evaluate your claims and has the authority to pursue a complaint on its own initiative."

Hmmm... 6 months of collecting funds and promoting a political view on a website without being registered... hmmm...

Soccer Mom said...

Anon 8:59: Good question: "where is the line when a group needs to be registers with the Fair Political Practices Commission?"

I do not know that answer. I will have to find out. I saw that the Yes for Walnut Creek had registered, and asked why. I was thinking they might have done so, in case the petition drive is successful and we have a citywide vote on the issue.

Old Fart: Which group are you referring to when you say I "personally support" it?

It's interesting but, yes, worthwhile, that we're getting back to the Sufism project and SOS. Maybe SOS constitutes a political campaign that needs to be registered. Hey, if you call and find out anything before I get a chance to, let us know.

If we're back on the Sufism topic, one could also raise the question of whether either the Saranap Community Association or the Saranap Homeowners Organization each constitute political campaigns for or against that particular project. I know some SOS members who would say that the Saranap Community Association basically exists to promote the Sufism project. And the SCA folks would say the same about the SHO.

As for this interview with the chair of the pro-Neiman group, I just asked the questions, he answered. I'm sure there are questions I didn't think of asking. As far as I know he is not an attorney, and he responded to my e-mail within a couple hours.

If someone from the anti-Neiman side wants to do a Q&A with me, they are welcome to contact me.

obiwan said...

We are told that many small businesses in Walnut Creek "are extremely supportive of this project because of the foot traffic and clientele it will attract for their businesses". I wonder if they will change their minds when the NM construction crews have the sidewalk (and maybe a lane of traffic) at the corner of Main Street and Mt. Diablo Blvd BLOCKED OFF for the two years it takes to build the store.

Old Fart said...

Hi Soccer Mom,

Thanks for responding... first, I think we should take the SHO and SCA off the table in terms of either group needing to register. Neither exists solely to address the Sufi development and both do other community service - the SHO supports CERT and the SCA does the Clothing and Toy Exchange. Also, per their website and from what I have been told, the SCA now has 4 non-Sufi board members, including its President.

As for me calling the FPPC, I personally do not find much interest in doing that - seems like you should though and I thought people should know they could.

But it came to me after I posted the phone number that people might think only Sufis might have reason to report the SOS to the FPPC, and so - for those who are new to this discussion - I think it only fair to list several other parties who could easily have a strong interest in reporting the SOS.

This I do so that we don't all start up again on "who could be doing what":

1. People from the prior discussions like "First Guy Leaving" and the other guy: reason: both wanted to distance themselves from SOS but had concerns about reprisals. Anonymous tipping might be their thing.

2. The SHO leadership: reason: distancing themselves from SOS in terms of the county’s perception

3. Newscast reporters who wuld rather have the government pay for an investigation so a story is wrapped up all neat and tidy – then they can “break the story” if tracking certain blogs.

4. Bored old farts who are sick of how the world has changed to become something almost unrecognizable, yet who still have faith that some government agencies are ethical.

two old cents

Albert said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Soccer Mom said...

Dear Old Fart,
Thank YOU for responding, for providing that FPPC number, and for taking the time to share your thoughts. You raised good points, good questions, and that's why I like having these message boards. You and Anon 8:59 raised good questions about why an organization seeks FPPC registration.

Nothing wrong with being an old fart and wanting to have faith that government agencies still have ethics.

Anonymous said...

Lost in this particular discussion is the fact that many residents don't want NM because of the impact on our streets and sidewalks. There's only so much room and downtown is running out of it. As far as the footprint of NM, walk east past David M's and you'll see the chalk marks, it looks like 4 stores are being torn down along with David M's.

Someone also mentioned to me that they were concerned about signing the petition because the city would have access to their names and addresses. Who can look at the petitions? Is it a public record?

Anonymous said...

Wasn't David M required to move so NM could occupy that space?

I love the way it sounds "NM can fill the space vacated by david M," as if David M had a choice.

Anonymous said...

You could always walk into the David M and ask the owner if they like their new smaller footprint, brighter store instead of their old aging building.

Or you could just make it sound like someone got forced to move out to make a vague point.

Anonymous said...

"There's only so much room and downtown is running out of it."

Please tell me you're joking. When do you foresee Manhattan running out of room genius?