It could even be a struggle over Walnut Creek's future, its identity, its soul…
Okay, I might be getting a little too melodramatic (especially with my reference to Bette Davis' famous quote in the classic film All About Eve.)
But I have to say I can’t believe how this debate, which started out like a “tropical depression” has erupted into a tempest worthy of categorization on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.
So, nearly two weeks ago the City Council says “yes” to Macerich, the owners of Broadway Plaza, bringing a Neiman Marcus to town. (This is the second time the council has said "yes." The first time was in the fall, but then Macerich, facing lawsuits and a previous voter referendum, withdrew its original three-story, no-new-parking proposal, with a new two-story, 175-parking-place-scheme proposal.)
But this latest “yes” doesn’t really mean anything more than, “bring it on!” More debate, more legal challenges, more politicking, handwringing, and mudslinging. Just as the debate about same-sex marriage heats up nationally, and the pro- and anti-Proposition 8 advocates marshal their forces, so, do the forces on both sides of Walnut Creek’s Neiman Marcus debate.
The result is that the argument over whether Macerich should be allowed to bring this Dallas-based luxury department store to Walnut Creek has exploded into some bitter, f-bomb ugliness.
Here are some highlights of the past two week’s developments, including from news reports, and information and questions that readers shared with me"
Cussing out! Death threats!
There were some heated exchanges in downtown Walnut Creek between some shoppers and a group gathering 4,200 signatures to force a citywide vote on whether Neiman Marcus should come to Walnut Creek. The petitioners are being paid by Macerich’s mall developer rival, Michigan-based Taubman Corp. Taubman owns Sunvalley mall and is a potential retail developer for the San Ramon City Centre. I myself witnessed a couple of ugly exchanges last weekend outside Whole Foods. The Contra Costa Times reports other clashes through the week, including complaints that: some petitioners cussed out shoppers who are pro-Neiman Marcus; and one, from a signature gatherer, who says someone yelled a death threat at him.
In light of the Times reporting that the petitioners are said to be veterans of prior campaigns and paid $5 per signature they obtain, one reader, who, like me, is neutral on whether Neiman Marcus comes to Walnut Creek, shared his experience with this group at the Countrywood shopping center:
A signature gatherer came over to me. He asked "are you a registered WC voter"? When I declined to sign, before he would walk away, I asked "hey, are YOU a registered WC voter?" He grinned and said no, he's paid to collect signatures.
It gets worse. A few minutes later, he approached me again (I guess he has a short memory) and another guy walked up and said "Oh hey, is that the petition to force a vote on Neiman Marcus? Let me sign that, I am SO WORRIED about parking downtown." I ignored them again, but 20 minutes later saw the two of them getting into the same car. It's one thing to hire people to collect signatures, but it's another to hire actors (and bad ones at that).
Taubman’s past and present legal expenses to fight rival mall companies probably could rival some nations' GDPs:
Apparently, Taubman was so unhappy that Los Angeles-based Macerich and its Broadway Plaza had landed a highly coveted Neiman Marcus store (which supporters say is vital to the city’s economic future) that it spent $100,000 to back a petition campaign to stall the project.
A pro-Neiman Marcus reader passed along this New York Times story about mall wars going on in affluent communities in Connecticut. Yes, Taubman was on one side of the battle. Even more head shaking: The story dates back to 1992. 1992! As of 1992, Taubman had already lost two court challenges, one that had gone all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court!
The story makes for interesting reading, and is illuminating for showing 1) the extent to which Taubman will expend money and time to wage war against a mall rival; and 2) how Walnut Creek should prepare for a protracted and costly battle over the future of Neiman Marcus in Broadway Plaza.
Residents who support Neiman Marcus
have formed Yes for Walnut Creek, which proclaims that Walnut Creek could lose big time if it doesn't nab Neiman Marcus. That the loss of this retail opportunity could “deplete the revenues we rely on to sustain our police, roads, parks, open spaces, the arts and other vital community services.”
Yes for Walnut Creek Chair Brad Kofoed, in a Q&A with Crazy in Suburbia, says the group started a few weeks ago, and includes more than 1,000 supporters, including residents and past and present city letters. It is not being funded by Macerich or Broadway Plaza, rather by individual donations. The group has registered with the Fair Practices Political Commission, “as a community group formed to specifically battle this outside interference.” (More on FPPC regulations regarding political campaigns below, as requested by one reader.)
As the Times reported, a group of about 30 Neiman Marcus supporters rallied on a North Main Street sidewalk earlier this week to protest the petitioners' tactics.
Residents who oppose Neiman Marcus—and have formed another group!
Walnut Creek residents Ann Hinshaw and Selma King (a former city planning commissioner) published their anti-Neiman Marcus editorial in Saturday’s Contra Costa Times. They assert that once again “the City Council has shown that they can’t, or won’t, do their job responsibly.” They say that the council gave Macerich “carte blanche” to speed this project forward and done a “pitiful job” representing the city, without dealing with the serious traffic and parking problems which will be made worse by a 92,000-square-foot store.”
Hinshaw and King argue that the city, facing a multimillion-dollar deficit, has received no guarantee that Neiman Marcus will actually become a tenant in Broadway Plaza or that this project will “bring it at least as much revenue as needed to provide city services.” They justify siding with Taubman, saying the company has funded their “right to dissent,” while Macerich and Neiman Marcus are “the real culprits … who appear to be taking advantage of the city.”
Their new organization (with a nifty acronym) is RAMPART, or Residents and Advocates for More Parking and Reduced Traffic. (Googled RAMPART: nothing has showed up yet.)
WC Downtown Business Association supports pro-Neiman Marcus group Yes to Walnut Creek:
The association on Friday sent out a reminder to members, saying that Neiman Marcus at Broadway Plaza is supported by the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce, the Walnut Creek Downtown Business Association, and the Contra Costa Association of Realtors.
Those FPPC regulations regarding political campaigns:
According to the California government code, disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures in state and local elections, including ballot measures is required of “campaign committees.” (You can view these regulations at the Fair Political Practices Commission website.)
These committees include:
--Individuals and organizations that receive contributions--$1,000 or more in a calendar year--to support or oppose … or to qualify, support or oppose state or local ballot measures, including initiative, referendum and recall measures (either primarily formed to support or oppose a single candidate or ballot measure, or more than one candidate or measure being voted on in a single election, or general purpose to support or oppose a variety of candidates and/or measures);
--Major donor committees: Individuals or entities that use their own money (i.e., personal funds, corporate or business funds) to make contributions totaling $10,000 or more in a calendar year to candidates or to committees supporting or opposing candidates or ballot measures;
--Independent expenditure committees: Individuals or entities that use their own money to make "independent expenditures" totaling $1,000 or more in a calendar year to support or oppose candidates or measures (e.g., Jane Brown uses personal funds to send a mailing to voters or to purchase an advertisement supporting a candidate, but she does so independently--not in coordination with the candidate or his or her campaign committee).