In the end, the City Council's choice Tuesday night on the Neiman Marcus issue had to do more with a matter of legal technicalities. Not with whether or not it would say yes or no to the the luxury department store being built in Broadway Plaza.
The council had already decided that it would leave it up to voters to say yes or no to the project, and put the development project on the November 3 ballot. Actually, the city was legally obligated to put the matter up for a vote within a certain time frame. That's because more than 15 percent of registered voters in the city signed a petition for an initiative, asking for the city to approve the project or to put it up for a vote.
So, Measure I was not in question for City Council members Tuesday night, despite a judge's ruling in favor of a lawsuit filed by Neiman Marcus opponents.
The language of Measure I comes from the initiative designed by residents who support Neiman Marcus, and whose pro-Neiman position is financially backed by Broadway Plaza owner Macerich.
In an apparent attempt the block the development, Neiman Marcus opponents filed a lawsuit demanding, among other things, that the city also include their two referenda on the November 3 ballot, along with Measure I. The anti-Neiman Marcus effort is backed by Taubman Centers, a rival mall developer that owns Sunvalley shopping mall and had hoped to bring Neiman Marcus to San Ramon. Their referenda asked for a city vote on specific aspects of the project, unlike the initiative, which supposedly asked for a yes or no on the project in its entirety.
At Tuesday night's meeting, Neiman Marcus opponents Ann Hinshaw, Selma King, and Ken Hambrick accused the City Council engaging in unethical, undemocratic, and "smoke and mirrors" practices to keep their referenda off the November 3 ballot. They wanted their referenda included on the ballot, so that residents would have what they view as a full opportunity to decide whether or not they want this store in downtown Walnut Creek.
City staff, council members ,and Neiman Marcus supporters have rejected the idea--and continued to reject the idea Tuesday night--of asking voters to sort through the initiative, plus two separate referenda, when they go to the voting booth.
One city resident suggested--and I agree--that the latest courtroom maneuverings and referenda ballot demands of Neiman Marcus opponents show that Taubman is "at the end of its rope." The resident, speaking before the council, said: "At this point all they want to do is create confusion. Something is terribly wrong with what they're trying to do."
Councilwoman Cindy Silva, like the other four council members, rejected the idea of putting the referenda on the ballot: "One ballot, one date, one question, one measure--that is the thing we should do in a representative form of government."
Councilman Kish Rajan concurred that "there are no issues in those referenda that are not addressed by Measure I. [Opponents] have the opportunity to vote no if they don't appreciate or don't like it. I don't think we are trying to deny people their rights or their ability to say what they think about this project. ... For those who said, 'we want to vote on the project, you'll get to vote.' "
So, there you go. The Council's decision. We'll see how long it stands. I hope city residents get the chance to vote in November on a simple ballot measure that asks whether or not they want this store to come to Broadway Plaza. City residents need to vote as soon as possible on this issue--and then move on.
Alas, we'll see if Taubman, and its citizen agents, have something else up their sleeve--lawsuit or otherwise--to confuse residents and prolong a controversy that has already wasted much time, energy, and money.