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
--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:
Anti-Neiman Marcus signature gatherers out in force in Walnut Creek Saturday, and the controversy’s San Ramon connection
Another Neiman Marcus hearing coming to a WC City Council chamber near you
Walnut Creek planners give OK to new Neiman Marcus plan
Walnut Creek planners give OK to new Neiman Marcus plan
Contra Costa Times story, "Mall wars: Could what happened in Connecticut happen in Walnut Creek?"