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July 7, 2009

Readers: What is your vision for Walnut Creek and its future (especially in light of this Neiman Marcus brouhaha)?

Almost two weeks ago, I wrote a little item titled “The battle for the soul of Walnut Creek—over a luxury department store—grows more muddled.”

I was expressing my astonishment over how the issue of Broadway Plaza’s attempts to bring a Neiman Marcus to Walnut Creek has become so heated, so nasty, politicized, costly and litigious. I asked whether the soul of Walnut Creek really lies in this one retail project, a development that even its supporters have to admit represents conspicuous consumption.

Well, of course, the battle is over deeper, long-simmering tensions in town. It has to be. That is evident in the 69-and-counting comments that this soulful or soul-searching story has so far generated. Also, the comments from people on both sides of the issue are thoughtful, intelligent, and heartfelt. People in town—or at least those who have taken the time to comment on this blog—feel very, very strongly about this Neiman Marcus issue, but also about the new library project, and the question of who has the power in town and whether that power is being wielded properly.

Maybe the soul of Walnut Creek is this retail project, or maybe it lies elsewhere. If so, where?

And what is Walnut Creek to you? What kind of community should it be? What kind of future should it have? What should residents and city leaders be doing to ensure that we have that future?

Okay, these are somewhat big, maybe airy questions. But I think it would be interesting to get the vision thing down for Walnut Creek. Maybe a lack of clarity is why we’re in such a muddle over a department store—and, yeah, the new library project.

So, I invite readers, people who live, work or visit Walnut Creek to comment. I’d also love to hear from community leaders, city workers, and city officials, as well as those on both sides of the Neiman Marcus and new library debate. As usual, you can post anonymously, or , if you’re, say, Mayor Gary Skrel, you can sign your name.

Depending on if and how this little project goes, I might select some of the comments to post as free-standing articles.

32 comments:

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Masterlock said...

Walnut Creek has certainly grown up, I think the future has already been spelled out for us and it is condos and high density housing, large chain restaurants and stores that can absorb the downtown rental and lease rates and 24 hour parking tickets. The city council is bought and paid for by developers and builders, which we saw in the last election, and the library is their focus. Meanwhile, we read about more and more frequent robberies, burglary and crime but our tax dollars aren't being used to fund more police coverage. The saving grace for me is the open spaces, hopefully that escape will always be there or at least until Dudum Enterprises opens a Muir's up there.

Anonymous said...

It would be nice if the City staff and politicians stuck to the General Plan so many contributed to. Some of us spent a LOT of time participating and expect our contributions to the process to actually MEAN something. Given that downtown is a dense (and growing denser) urban core, it is extremely important to me that the neighborhoods in WC become more clearly defined and the character of those neighborhoods be preserved. San Francisco is a good model in way (though hopefully WC will never become THAT dense!). Each neighborhood in SF is like a town within the city of SF with character, local community, local participation, etc. Why not develop and define similar neighborhood communities in WC? And ... last but not least ... if city staff and council had respected neighborhood concerns about development in the recent past --- eg, the Homestead Hilton project, the SIZE of the library project, etc. --- there probably wouldn't as much brouhaha about Nieman Marcus...NM is just the final straw, imo. I personally like the idea of NM downtown, btw.

Anonymous said...

I am not very happy with the way Walnut Creek is headed. It seems as if the people in charge are trying to cram as many buildings/people into every scrap of land as they can. Look at the new building on N. Main St. To me, it seems like a hard sale. Luxury apartments bordered by a Motel 6, an old Marriot, 680, N. Main Street, Taco Bell and two car dealerships. Doesn't spell luxury to me.

In the next block from our house, a developer bought all of the houses on a small court with plans to build townhomes. The original plans called for around 56 homes. The city came back and said that they had to put at least 78. Visitor parking spaces: 11. They bulldozed the houses and put a chainlink fence around the whole thing. I bet they wished they hadn't knocked the houses down. It could be years before they are able to break ground.

Except for the movie theater, there is not much for kids to do in Walnut Creek. My 15 year old daughter says that we reside in Walnut Creek, but live in Concord and Pleasant Hill.

Tuesdays and Thursdays, there is a Farmers Market at Todos Santos Plaza, around a square with real grass! Imagine! Live bands, farmers market and food stands, the place is packed with people! Walnut Creeks Farmers Market is on an old ratty street.

I am not opposed to an Neiman Marcus, just disgusted with how they waltzed into town and told the city what they were and were not going to do. Why don't they have to follow to same rules as the rest of the businesses?

From a tax revenue point of view, I guess the cities future is bright. What happens when gas is $7.00-$10.00 a gallon and nobody from outside Walnut Creek can afford to drive here? But its OK, we will still have our glitzy stores!

Anonymous said...

I was wondering about your statement about residing in Walnut Creek but living in Pleasant Hill and Concord? I give you that I too think the location of the WC farmer's market is less than great. But what besides the farmer's market do you think is preferable in PH or Concord? Don't miss understand me I have nothing against PH and Concord they have many of the nice amenities we all seem to like about living in Suburbia. The reason I like WC is that it is quite different from the normal bland suburban towns around here. The quiet residential areas are balanced with a more urban downtown which is very different from other towns around here. While there are malls in downtown they don't feel like the classical shopping centers or strip malls. The shops are nice and walkable and try to give you the impression of a real downtown.
I much more prefer to walk around Broadway, Main, Diablo, and Locust streets than shopping in a mall like Sunnvalley or Stone Valley, and stop for a coffee in one of the many coffee shops. I like the mix of restaurants and actually think a prior poster who cited large chain restaurants is completely wrong. But I have to admit that I love to eat at VDV, WCYC, Huyhn, Le Bistro Café Delle Stelle, Tomatina. or Prima to name a few and have no real desire to eat at the Cheese Cake Factory, Chilli's, CPK or PF Chang for example.
I don't have a parking or a traffic problem in WC and I do look forward to the new library and NM as attractive magnets of downtown. By the way since you think WC doesn't offer much for the youth I hope at least you will see the new library as an attractive addition for our youth.

Anonymous said...

I don't know, somehow I don't see kids hanging out for hours at a library, which was also crammed down our throats.

Anonymous said...

maybe it's not true for you and your kids, but I would not generalize this statement. I for example can totally loose time in a library or at a bookstore

Anonymous said...

My vision for downtown has always been to maintain its character and charm with development that respects our uniqueness. We are beautifully located beneath Mt Diablo and its foothills. We have trees and alleys and some wonderful spots to sit and enjoy. In my opinion, the Neiman Marcus project offers nothing to the character and charm of the downtown. They're tearing down perfectly good buildings and putting up a monument to greed. There is not a plaza, courtyard, fountain or even a roof garden in their plans. Instead we are offered walls that will come up to the sidewalk but bring in lots of $$$. People may stop coming when we start looking like every other mall and increased congestion makes us less convenient.

The Bart Transit Village will have 50 foot tall buildings in the existing parking lot east of the tracks. When visitors and commuters arrive at the station, instead of views of the mountain and foothills, they'll be welcomed by concrete walls.

It would seem that with all this so called progress, we are giving up a lot of what makes us special. And yes, Soccer Mom, it feels like we're losing our soul to the almighty $$$$

Anonymous said...

"People may stop coming when we start looking like every other mall and increased congestion makes us less convenient."

I bet you'd really like that! Good luck with that. Or maybe you should just move on and move out. WC is not going to stop for you, sorry to break it to you.

BTW I totally agree with you, it seems like every other strip mall has a NM, doesn't it? Didn't Sunvalley mall get one of those years ago?

Anonymous said...

I love to read, as do my kids. I checked 9 books out of the library yesterday. But to be at the library all day long, everyday. Please, you are living in an imaginary world if you think that WC kids are going to spend every spare minute at the WC library.

Apart from that, do you really think that all of this high density building going on is really good for WD?

Anonymous said...

Now we seem to get a little silly. Nowhere is there an argument that kids will be all day long, everyday, or spending every free minute at the library.

I assume that you are the same poster as July 8, 3:01 PM and suggested that for example Concord having a nice farmers market on Tuesday and Thursday makes it much more attractive for your kids than WC. Now I didn't understand this that you meant your kids spend all day, every day or every spare minute at the farmer's market?

I know that you feel that PH and Concord offer more for young people than WC and I would like to understand why. You seem to discard many attractions particularly for young people in WC such as the new library, the swim centers at Heather Farm Park or Larkey Park, the Skatepark, the Lindsey Museum, the Bedford Gallery, the many Open Spaces.....

And let's not be silly I don't want to suggest that kids would want to spend all day, every day and every spare minute at these locations.

As to the high density buildings in downtown: I do think it is good for WC. That doesn't mean that everybody wants to live in high density developments. But some people do like to live in very close distance to transport, shopping and entertainment. I would assume that these are in particular the young and the elderly. The nice thing is WC offers both, high density and low density housing.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:31, July 9th

Thank you for your cogent response. Walnut Creek's Open Space is about 20% of the land area in our City. Only Palo Alto has a higher ratio of open space per person in our state. The City parks & gyms have fantastic activities for kids at nominal prices if not for free. I am mystified by a statement that there's nothing for kids to do. I am really suspicious that the author (3:01 July 8) of the complaints has not bothered to do even minimal research.

Anonymous said...

Who knew that one store, Neiman Marcus, could bring out such feelings. What is it about this issues that makes it a "hot button"? For me, it seems like the WC planning commission and city council see $$$$$ and all else flys out the window. I would like to hear from business owners in WC. Does it bother you that NM told the city their plans instead of asking for permission? I would be very upset if I had to jump through hoops as a small business person, while watching a big corporation bully their way in.

Anonymous said...

So you think the small business community would be very upset by the fact that the Walnut Creek City Counsel approved the plan for NM at Broadway Plaza? How hard would that be to find out? How about Google "Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce" and you will find the following statement.

"On May 19, the Walnut Creek City Council approved the much-improved plans for Neiman Marcus at Broadway Plaza. The new building is significantly smaller and only two stories tall. For parking, Broadway Plaza will add 175 new free parking spaces - fully meeting city requirements. This project is endorsed by the Chamber of Commerce, the Walnut Creek Downtown Business Association, the Contra Costa Association of Realtors and over 1,000 members of the community."

But for some reason I have the feeling you already knew this, but still thought you might as well use the David vs. Goliath angle.

Anonymous said...

I give up. Apparently, NM and WC can do no wrong.

Anonymous said...

My in-laws owned a lovely summer home in Asti back in the 80s and 90s. My husband and I used to love spending time in the Valley of the Moon. We looked for a home in that area, but the commute to work dissuaded us. We fell in love with the little summer cottage we found in Walnut Creek back in the 90s. No sidewalks, walnut trees in the backyard, warm summer sun. It took us back to those idyllic days in Sonoma County without having to commute 2 hours to work. Unfortunately, that is now a thing of the past. High-density living is not what we sought. (Nor the week-end (boozer) party atmosphere of downtown.) We might as well move to San Francisco - a real metropolitan city. Such a shame to see this happen to a once beautiful country-like setting. Greed is a terrible thing.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm sounds a little bit too Mayberry to me. The '9os? That was the time of Johnny Love among some other hotspots, so maybe the weekend booze parties are not really only a problem of today?

What happened to the walnut trees in your backyard? They must still be there unless you cut them down for a development? And the warm summer sun? How is that influenced by high density housing?

And let me guess that nice little summer cottage from the '90s by now has what, tripled in value? That must feel good as a cushion for retirement? Oh no that would be greed and that's terrible thing .... well maybe not my greed but the greed of my neighbors.

Anonymous said...

Anon 9:29

If your argument was City Hall is in bed with the fat cats and totally neglects the little guys, then you don't give up because City Hall and NM can't do no wrong. You give up because you don't have an argument. I'm sure everybody posting here has followed the story for a while on this blog and has read the Times and the WC Journal. So I don't believe you that you didn't knew that the vast majority of small businesses are in support of City Hall on this question. But why let the facts get in the way of a good argument. Bad, bad City Hall bought and payed for by the deep pockets is just too good to pass.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:36

I thought that city council was also supposed to work for the residents, not just the business owners. I know lots and lots of residents who are very angry about NM and felt that the hearings they attended were just for show. At least the planning commission and city hall could have pretended to care what the average person thought. Maybe this would not have escalated to the point that it has if they had.

Anonymous said...

"At least the planning commission and city hall could have pretended to care what the average person thought."

So what does the average person think? Do you really pretend to know what the average person thinks? Just because you happen to know a lot of opponents that doesn't mean that you know the thinking of the average person.

There is really only one way to know and that's City Counsel election. That's the way a representative democracy works whether you like it or not.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:16

Why are you so hostile?

Anonymous said...

What's hostile about 7:16? Isn't it a valid point that the elected City Counsel represents the will of the people of the City? Now you might disagree with the decisions of the Counsel. But that doesn't give you the right to represent the will of the "average people".

So in my view, if anybody is hostile, it is 6:55 by not accepting the basic tenants of our political system.

The proper way as many here have pointed out earlier is to become active in politics and try to convince a majority of your arguments and get elected or help elect a candidate of your choosing. You just won't change anything by sitting here and whining that City Counsel doesn't even pretend to listen to the average guy.

Go and get a mandate to speak for the average guy and don’t just pretend!

Anonymous said...

There have been many surveys throughout the years to gauge residents' feelings about community planning issues. The survey taken for the General Plan stated "survey respondents were satisfied with things as they were in 2003, and said they wanted Walnut Creek to stay largely as it was."(page 1-10 of General Plan 2025)

Some suggest that those of us who support a more reasoned approach to development should move. But as the survey says, "residents like things as they are." Those who support high density should move to some big urban city rather than turn Walnut Creek into one.

Anonymous said...

"I know lots and lots of residents who are very angry about NM and felt that the hearings they attended were just for show. "

Let's not be angry, it's not healthy. Secondly, some of the issues people raise at these meetings are not substantiated in by the facts. Traffic and parking are complaints raised at these meetings and both are not real issues. Why should a city adjust to complaints of situations that don't exist?

Yes, parking is not always available at the exact spot you want and sometimes you do have to wait a couple of lights. BTW, Wed. night I was passing Safeway at 5:11pm on my way to HWY 24. I didn't have to stop at one light on my way out of town.

Anonymous said...

"No sidewalks, walnut trees in the backyard, warm summer sun. It took us back to those idyllic days in Sonoma County without having to commute 2 hours to work. Unfortunately, that is now a thing of the past."

Oh my, they took your cottage and replaced it with high rise condominiums! Did you mention this at a city hall meeting? Those darn greedy council people.

I have the sun, walnut trees and no sidewalks and I can walk to all that downtown has to offer. I do drive most of the time though.

I look forward to the free jazz music next week offered in part by Broadway Plaza. Yeah!

Anonymous said...

Is it just me? I have the impression that there is a lot of criticism and very little vision in most of these posts.

No offense but here is an incomplete list of arguments which in my view just sound bitter and don't offer any vision for the future:


- City Hall only listens to the big guys.

- City Counsel is bought by big corporations and all they care is to put plaques on large buildings.

- All my buddies don't like this or that, thus I speak for the majority of citizens.

- 20 years ago Walnut Creek was a sleepy quaint little town just like Mayberry.

- I want my neighbors to keep the town as a museum of days past for me.

- Traffic and parking are so terrible that it is impossible to go downtown or to cross town.

- Walnut Creek offers nothing for its youth.

- Everyone but me is greedy.


So come on stop the bickering and give us some visions where this town should be headed.

Anonymous said...

Have lived in WC about ten years now after living for several decades first in the country and then in a densely packed urban environment. Walnut Creek is my first suburban experience... however, it's not truly suburban anymore. From what I can see in WC, the downtown is no longer a SUBURBAN downtown, yet many commenting here refer to downtown as if it is still suburban and seem to want to reclaim that feeling. It's way too late for that. The tide turned in Walnut Creek when the Brad Blake projects were built downtown. This is not going to get UNbuilt, though there might be a lot of vacant store fronts in this economy for awhile. I agree with the previous poster who mentioned WC neighborhoods ... why not let the downtown continue to become more and more urban with high density housing, etc and contain the density there and around the BART? Then focus attention on defining and preserving the neighborhoods throughout WC (maybe those neighborhoods could each develop their own official mini-master plan even) ... that's what successful urban environments do. Examples: Portland, San Francisco, Chicago, etc. Let's accept the inevitable and focus our attention on impacting strongly identified neighborhoods.

Anonymous said...

Hmmm, speaking of the Brad Blake project (Olympia Place), even Regalia admitted disappointment in the project. So let's tear it down just like SF tore down the ugly Embarcadero Freeway.

Anonymous said...

5:35 pm -

Great idea!!!! Tearing down the crappy Blake Hunt structures would be a great improvement to the whole of downtown WC! Problem is we can't put back the pretty little hill that was there before the really ugly movie theater went up.

During Ms. Regalia's very long tenure on the council we saw alot of the original downtown destroyed and then replaced with awful development. Too bad she was disappointed in Olympia place. It is not that she didn't know how over 200 citizens felt who showed up at the counci's public hearings to express their hatred for the project. Council was singing praises, as usual with $$$$$ signs in their eyes and it sailed right through on a 5 to 0 vote. Imagine that.

Does anyone see a trend in the past 5 years of looking for ways to gather more money? What is driving this attitude? Could it be that the council over-spent on the library,then drained reserves and borrowed from other sources to finance it? Guess what.....they are still short of funds and the downturn in the economy certainly hasn't helped them cover up their outrageous spending and poor financial planning.

No matter how many new buildings are built in the near future, it is going to take many years for Walnut Creek to recover financially and be capable of providing much needed vital services.

Anonymous said...

I've probably been in WC a shorter time than most of the posters, but from my limited perspective, WC could benefit from the following:

--better street lighting

--more frequent bus service

--bike lanes and/or electric vehicle transport

--a big overhaul of the ratty part of North Main Street, the shops and strip malls there

--more pedestrian-friendly attractions, amenities or conveniences

--better city government Web site (better navigation, listings, etc.), to facilitate finding information

--shuttles from BART to major events like the crafts fair at Heather Farms (Lafayette and some Berkeley events provide free shuttles from BART to their big annual events; why not WC/Heather Farms>?)

--some communitywide events that help foster a sense of community, neighborhood involvement, civic pride, getting to know neighbors, etc. (Cleanup Day, native area restoration, Habitat for Humanity, senior citizen assistance, fodo drives, animal habitat restoration, helping stray animals, community art projects for kids, mentoring, emergency skills training and emergency response training, community crime prevention, environmental training and recycling awareness, etc. -- I know individual groups do these kinds of things, but some big annual events that bring in more of the community would be good, too. A similar example in another part of the Bay is the Ocean Beach cleanup event in San Francisco)

These are just some ideas off the top of my head. As a single woman living in a condo in the eastern section of WC (not in the denser downtown WC area), I'm really wrestling lately with the ideas of what is HOME, what is COMMUNITY, what is a NEIGHBORHOOD, and how does one promote those things, so some of those concerns have influenced my points above.

Anonymous said...

Anon 11:16 excellent points. I can only agree with your constructive posting.

Anonymous said...

11:16

We have a creek clean up day. Maybe we could meet over coffee to discuss :)