August 12, 2009

When we refer to “vested interests” in the any debate, including the Neiman Marcus controversy, what are we really talking about?

Among readers' comments about Neiman Marcus and other controversies, I’ve seen this term pop up from time to time, usually in reference to those who want Neiman Marcus to come to Broadway Plaza.

Here’s one instance, referring to last week's City Council meeting on putting a Neiman Marcus initiative up to a city-wide vote: “If you listened to the titles of the speakers as they introduced themselves , most had a vested interest in this issue and were there to beat the drums for the home [pro-Neiman Marcus] team.”

From the Merriam-Webster dictionary, “vested interest” is defined as:
1: an interest (as a title to an estate) carrying a legal right of present or future enjoyment; specifically : a right vested in an employee under a pension plan
2: a special concern or stake in maintaining or influencing a condition, arrangement, or action especially for selfish ends
3: one having a vested interest in something; specifically, a group enjoying benefits from an existing economic or political privilege

But is having a “vested interest” in whether or not this store gets built, or on any other issue, a bad thing?

Sure, having a vested interest could be a bad thing—if that interest prompts illegal behavior. For example, if we could show a direct line of financial benefit to a past or present City Council member and to an issue on which they voted. … Let’s say, Cuncilman Joe Smith’s business will get some kind of contract from, uh, helping to build the new department store in town. That would be a conflict of interest, the kind that would probably get him into trouble with the Fair Political Practices Commission.

Oh, in no way, am I saying that any of that kind of thing is going on …

Aside from anything illegal, I agree with the person commenting that many of those who spoke at the City Council meeting had a vested interest in the project.

As in, most everyone expressing a strong viewpoint on the project expected to gain some kind of “present or future enjoyment” from it; possessed “a special concern or stake” in influencing this action for “selfish ends”; or hoped to enjoy “benefits from an existing economic or political privilege.”

But couldn’t you say similar things about people on the other side of this debate?

And, isn’t that the way of controversial issue? Doesn't most everyone who cares have some kind of stake in the outcome—a vested interest, if you will. Isn’t that the way of life?

Some in this Neiman Marcus debate definitely see the promise of financial gain, but I would guess that others hope to gain in less straightforward, dollars-and-cents ways. They want to preserve something of Walnut Creek they value; they want their beliefs about what’s best for Walnut Creek to become the new reality. Let's consider the "vested interests" of some of the players:

In terms of financial gain, Macerich, which owns Broadway Plaza, wants a new luxury department store, and it wants Neiman Marcus, because it thinks Neiman Marcus will be profitable and earn it money, so it is willing to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on petition drives and initiative campaigns to bring the store here.

On the other side, rival mall developer Taubman Centers is involved in developing San Ramon’s city center, which Neiman Marcus was eyeing pretty seriously until the Walnut Creek location became available. Naturally, Taubman, which also owns Sunvalley shopping mall, has an interest in Neiman Marcus not going to Walnut Creek. So Taubman will spend hundreds of thousands of dollars in an effort to block its construction in Broadway Plaza.

The City of Walnut Creek: Rightly or wrongly, city staff and City Council members believe Neiman Marcus will bring additional and much needed sales tax revenues to Walnut Creek. The city wants that additional revenue to pay for services and staff salaries—some of which have been cut to deal with the current budget crisis. The city staff and council members, also rightly or wrongly, believe that Neiman Marcus will be good for downtown’s prestige and long-term economic and social health.

Downtown business leaders: Their pro-Neiman Marcus motives are similar to those of the city, but they also think that what’s good for the city’s overall economic health is good for them, and they see Neiman Marcus as being an economic plus.

The main Neiman Marcus opponents, Ed Dimmick, Selma King, Ann Hinshaw: It is said that they care very much for the city and its future, and that they speak for all those residents who question how the city is growing, and whether our downtown is getting too crowded and unattractive for residents. I have no reason to doubt that they believe that their lawsuits and campaigns in opposition to this project is a good thing for the city. If I do any pop psychoanalyzing, I suppose their passion on this issue could have do with gaining some sense of personal satisfaction in making their vision of Walnut Creek a reality, proving that what they believe is the correct way to go.

Take it from a blogger, who occasionally spouts off her opinions, there can be nothing more satisfying than having your opinions validated—in getting affirmation that you might, after all, be saying something reasonable, thought-provoking, influential. Herein lies my vested interest? Well, not in this Neiman Marcus project, actually, but in why I blog?

As usual, I digress . . .

People involved in city arts and recreation, including those who work in the city or volunteer on city commissions or who work and volunteer for nonprofit groups or organizations that support arts and recreation programs in the city: Some of these people spoke at the City Council meeting in support of Neiman Marcus and the initiative to let residents vote on the project. They see the new store as bringing in money for services they love, and they also know that a financially healthy business climate better supports those quality-of-life services that keep them employed or that give them pleasure. So, herein lies their vested interests. Perhaps the nonprofit leaders are also hoping that Neiman Marcus will become a “community partner” donating money to their organizations or sponsoring their events.

I'm sure there are some groups and motives I've left out. If anyone cares to, they can share their theories for why certain individuals and groups are taking the positions they are taking.


Anonymous said...

Thank you Soccer Mom for your usual thoughtful summation of the possible motives (vested interests) on both sides of the Neiman Marcus debate. The anti-Neiman Marcus residents are not monsters, but people who appear to genuinely love their city and want it to remain as is (or, even, return to simpler times of the past). Those residents who want Neiman Marcus to come also genuinely love their city and see Broadway Plaza and the new Neiman Marcus as positive contributors to both the downtown vitality and all the quality of life amenities that having a sound sales tax base can support.
And the two businesses involved on either side are just that, businesses. While I personally have seen petition gatherers for the no-Neiman side tell lies to get signatures, I would like to think that they were acting on their own volition in being untrue, and since they don't live in walnut creek, hopefully they've left the area by now ;)
It's time for both sides to stop the name calling, to promote a genuine and respectful discussion about the future of Walnut Creek and the pros and cons of a Broadway Plaza expanion on that future, and then vote yes or no on Neiman Marcus based on their personal vision (or 'vested interest') for the city we all call home.

Anonymous said...

Those who opposed the NM plan and its smaller version have a vested interest in the city's general plan. Two years of effort and $1,000,000 can't be erased from the minds of those who helped craft this plan. Development, especially downtown, should adhere to the GP's guidelines. Let them build Neiman Marcus within those guidelines.

Anonymous said...

It truly baffles me why someone wouldnt want a prestigious department store like Neiman Marcus to be in their city? I bet these same "old timers" are more than happy to take the 1MM profit they "earned" on their homes.

Well, the reality is people who spend 1MM plus on their home want a decent place to shop where they live. Neiman Marcus will provide that experience for the new younger people moving into the area paying these prices for the homes.

If these old farts dont like NM, then they dont have to shop there, but they cant expect to have their home valued at 1MM plus and not expect people who actually pay for these homes to be denied a decent place to shop.

The anti NM people can go to Target or whatever other cheap, tacky store they choose to shop in or they can open their own store in one of the MANY currently vacant storefronts downtown.

Anonymous said...

Hey anon. 4:10am- There are a lot of old farts out there who vote and resent your preconceived notions of our economic status. Everyone has a right to express their opinions no matter their age or income.