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January 31, 2010

Small town? Big town? What's your view of Walnut Creek?

One of the key tensions among Walnut Creek residents is whether this community of 63,000 people should hold onto its quiet, small town roots--or it should become more urban, and less suburban. This tension shows up all the time in comments on this blog. Most recently I’ve seen this tension in reaction to posts I’ve done on the new library and about the City Council’s approval of a nine-unit housing project on the fringe of the historic Almond-Shuey neighborhood.

Contributing to this tension, it seems, is frustration--on one side and justified or not--with city leaders for not doing a good enough job listening to residents. On the other side are residents and business leaders who tend to be pro-development, whether the development involves a new high-end department store, a new library, new high-density "infill" housing projects in certain neighborhoods, or a new BART transit village. 

The following comments, to some degree, express different aspects of the tension. I thought I'd share a few and ask: Where do you fall on this small town/big town debate?

Here are views expressed by readers:

Regarding a post that referred to the new library (due to open this summer), a reader said:

Why is it so close to the street like every other newish building in Walnut Creek. Do we not value any set-backs anymore? ... I've noticed the same thing. I think the WC city council wants to make WC look like a true city (like NY city or SF) where the buildings are right on the sidewalk. I don't like it at all.
Regarding the City Council's decision on the Almond Lofts project, on a half-acre lot fronting Oakland Boulevard, many readers, who participated in this debate, offered different viewpoints on the small town/big town question:

It's only a matter of time before Walnut Creek is nothing but a shopping district surrounded by apartments. I get the distinct feeling that the City Council would love that.
But Steve Reiser, a realtor (and former president of the Contra Costa Board of Realtors), and Almond/Shuey resident and publisher of the Almond/Shuey Blog wrote:

Guess what? If you buy, rent or live in a downtown neighborhood, you have to deal with the consequences of downtown living. Disclosure laws are such that if you buy here today, you would need to sign a document acknowledging items such as BART, freeway, traffic and potential development. It cracks me up when someone moves to or lives in downtown Walnut Creek, then complains about traffic and noise. It goes with the territory.


[Reiser says he put together a petition drive, prior to the Almond Lofts decision, asking Almond/Shuey neighbors to voice their approval of the project.]
He explains that he put it together because “I personally believe that this is a smart project and ideal for that lot. … Oakland Blvd has unfortunately taken on somewhat of a hodge-podge element of urban blight; empty offices, run-down homes and apartment buildings, a new pot club, weekly abortion picketers, and of course the big (eyesore) empty lot in question which is often used to park trucks and trailers.”

Finally, another reader, commenting on the Almond Lofts project, took a bigger-picture view of the basic pro- or anti-development, small town/big town question:  
Of course we can't go back to the good old days, and quite honestly there is alot about the good old days that we would not find amusing or convenient.
But.......we must be better stewards of what is left of the older parts of town that add so much to our community.
The "tear it down and fill it up with multiples" attitude has got to come to an end, now!


For the council members who don't live in or any where near the older parts of town, seem to feel that their neighborhoods are the only ones worth preserving. Wrong.


Wake up people! It is only going to get worse and pretty soon we will have a totally "plastic" downtown created because our council is "infill" mad. No matter, it doesn't affect their way of life in the end.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

Good presentation Soccer Mom.

This should lead to a very active discussion from the residents of Walnut Creek.

My hope would be that the City Council will take a look-see on the blog and really study the submissions from your loyal readers and contributers.

CreekyDiva said...

Actually 11:34 AM, this blog should be required reading for both the city council and city staff members.

Here folks can express their views anonymously without fear of being personally marked forever by their opinions on subjects that may be controversial. This blog is a much more comfortable venue than standing before the council, letters to the editor in the Times, attendance at the city's listening sessions etc. Here, people can speak freely without fear of recrimination.

Anonymity obviously frustrates some who use their real names but so be it. Not everyone is willing to put themselves out there for public ridicule and that is how blogs work. Quite successfully, I might add.

Come on folks - let's all share our views so that we can better understand each other regarding our vision of our town.

Anonymous said...

The very fact that residents of Walnut Creek worry about being ridiculed by City Council members or fear that their small businesses might be targeted for retaliation speaks volumes to the state of things.

Anonymous said...

Regarding the police, I think they want to keep WC "small town." I say this because they and the council treat bars/restaurants unequally. How can one bar/restaurant have to stop serving alcohol at 11:30 while say another is aloud to serve until 1am? How is this fair?

Ballin in da Creek said...

I'd like to see some of the open space sold to the Oakland A's or Warriors to make a push for one of these teams to relocate to Walnut Creek. Just think of the additional revenue and fun a pro sports team would bring! So... to answer your question... I'd like to push a Big Town view.

obiwan said...

I think that every candidate for City Council should be required to state whether they support preserving the character of our neighborhoods, and if so, to state explicitly how they define neighborhood character. To me what makes my neighborhood, the Almond/Shuey, unique is the concentration of 1920's-1940's style bungalows, not just that it happens to be downtown. Yes, we can and should have remodels and even new infill development - if we preserve that distinctive look and scale.

To the Council apparently, 9 sort of craftsman-inspired 2 and 3 story buildings crowded on a lot is close enough. But what really bugs me (still!) is the way the Staff only provided information to the Councils and Commissions that supported approval, and the City Council pushed through approval in a public hearing that they only voted to hold after they held it.

obiwan said...

Anon 1:56pm : You're right. Staggered closing times were established because the City's "small town" police force isn't staffed to handle all 91 downtown alcohol-serving establishments (a number documented by City staff) simultaneously release their drunks onto the streets at 2am. It wasn't considered "fair" to expect the "small town" City's taxpayers to have to maintain a police force large enough to maintain order with that large of a crowd, which by its very nature, will always include some rowdy, intoxicated individuals.

Perhaps the "big town" City Council never should have approved 91 alcohol-serving establishments downtown in the first place, but that's what we've got. It wouldn't be "fair" to run these businesses out of town either. I'm not sure that there is a "fair" solution to the mess we're in. But if you have one - please share it!!!

Anonymous said...

For an outsider the nature of WC is neither Small Town or Big Town, it is the place that you cannot park town.

Anonymous said...

message to Walnut Creek: the best big towns - San Francisco, New York, Paris, London - preserve and cherish some of their lovely old buildings and also offer small one of a kind shops.
Walnut Creek tears down older buildings to put in faceless new ones and offers mostly boring chain stores downtown.

Jojo Potato said...

I have to cringe when I hear a neighborhood of 1920's houses referred to as historic. A German friend of mind had to remind me that his hometown had recently celebrated its 1500 year anniversary. I do like Almond/Shuey but the reality is that a developer could make good money by bulldozing it and putting up something else. I don't think it will happen very soon though. Look at what a flop Mercer has been. Going west of California Blvd just doesn't work yet.

DumbAsBricks said...

What downtown character are your referring to? The chance for preservation has come and gone for the downtown area, decades ago.

There is still a bit of the character of the area in the Open spaces and at Castle Rock Park. The orchards and groves are gone.
All we have left is the open space and now they want to get rid of the cows for a few mountain bikers and hikers and change the Diablo to Reagan. Sheesh.

Progress? With respect to this one issue, I would like to turn the clock back a little bit and do it right.

Anonymous said...

SM,
I'm disappointed by the quality of the discourse so far.
I convey my wishes through letters to the editor of our local newspaper and testify at City meetings. I don't understand why anonymous blog contributors should have more say than me in City decisions. Actually, they should not.
The first poster today suggested the City Council should give great weight to anonymous critics that may not even live or vote in Walnut Creek over the citizens that express their opinions by their votes and public testimony.
The second poster does not have credibility,either. Anonymous guttersniping is not honorable.

Anonymous said...

Anon 7:11 PM

If you are so happy to write letters to the editor and testify at City meetings out in the open, why are you posting as ANONYMOUS on this blog?

You seem to have read "between the lines" on the first post and somehow got the impression that all those who write here are critics of the city and council actions.

As to the second poster, what do you consider guttersniping in that post?

Proudly Anonymous in Walnut Creek

Anonymous said...

Small town? Big town? It's a SUBURB.

Beyond that, some of my thoughts on the subject are:

From a commercial standpoint and for the sake of Walnut Creek's identity and sense of place, it needs to focus on the things that make it unique, and cherish and support those: the high percentage of open space ... Mt. Diablo ... the trails ... Ruth Bancroft Gardens .. and yes, the downtown.

Do people who don't like WC's downtown go check out the other East Bay downtowns? In terms of retail, WC's is the best I've seen on this side of the Bay. It's also one of the better East Bay downtowns for dining.

I lived in San Francisco for more than 20 years and now live in WC, after losing my rent-controlled apartment in the city. Personally, I find the suburbs a lonely and dispiriting place, with people sealed up in their cars and cut off from each other in other ways, compared to the feeling of living in an urban neighborhood of mixed residential and retail use, where people can easily walk from home to cafe to neighborhood market and see and visit with others in the process.

However, at the same time, I'm trying to concentrate on the good things about living in the East Bay -- and one of those is the mix of the different BART-centric areas, whether it's downtown Berkeley's developing arts district, or the retail/cafe/restaurant hub that surrounds Rockridge BART, or the shops located a stone's throw from Lafayete BART. One of the drawbacks to Walnut Creek BART and Walnut Creek downtown is how far the BART station is from the actual shopping district, aside from Target. (Yes, I know there's a free shuttle from WC BART to downtown. It still bugs me that BART and the stores are so far apart. It's contrary to the kind of planning I've seen in much of the Bay Area and most of the cities I've visited, whether in the U.S. or abroad, that have underground or elevated transit.)

Masterlock said...

One of my first apartments out of college was in a duplex on Almond, I love that neighborhood. It definitely seems like any new developments are all done by cramming as many people together in small spaces as possible. I'm sure there's some environmental argument that could be made, but it seems like it all comes down to greed.

Anonymous said...

Some of you need a reality check and need to get off of this romanticism about being a "small town". Puh-lease...Small towns don't have a Nordstrom, Tiffany, or Apple store. Get real.

WC is a developed suburb with remnant shacks, suburban tract homes, and modern developments like The Mercer and 555 YVR.

You can't have it both ways.

~YYZ

Anonymous said...

I like the idea of having the businesses close to the street. I don't like the idea of parking lots in front, that looks like strip malls.

I don't know why people say you can't park downtown. Sure it is tougher during the holidays, but there are plenty of options (Free!) that can be utilized if you don't mind walking a few blocks. Plus there is the trolley!

Anonymous said...

I don't care for the "canyon" effect that occurs when 3 story buildings are built out close to the street. Views are lost and walking on the sidewalks is not pleasant as you are very close to the busy traffic on the street. If we truly wish to have a pedestrian friendly town as the planning folks keep stressing, then a good setback is necessary to accomplish a pleasing and safe experience for those on foot. I doubt that anyone would advocate onsite parking lots in front of any new developments downtown.

We are and always will be a suburb. Whether is it a nice suburb is up to us to decide. As it stands now, it appears that developers have too much say about how our town proceeds with growth and do not take into consideration the quality of life for those of us who live here.

To YYZ at 1:12 PM I would say that much of Walnut Creek housing is tract homes and I guess I don't understand what you mean by "remnant shacks". There are many interesting and more established neighborhoods in town where custom built homes are the norm. Those that may appear to be older (remnant shacks?)and in need of repair are quickly being bought up by younger families and remodeled as they view this town as a nice place in which to raise their children.

Judging a town by the chain stores (Nordstroms, Tiffanys, Apple etc.) that have chosen to locate here is wrong. These store say nothing about the charm and character of our town and believe it or not we could survive without them.

In many ways we are still a small town and thankfully the limited size of the core area will keep us just that. However, we must all stay alert to new growth downtown to preserve what attributes drew us here in the first place.

Anonymous said...

The city is trying to squeeze a big city into this small town.

Anonymous said...

ANON 8:58 PM

Well said!

We can't let it happen!!!

Tate said...

The ultimate destination for Walnut Creek is a micro San Francisco - an intellectual community complete with the finest restaurants, shopping, entertainment and arts. No other town this side of the Oakland/Berkeley hills is situated at the intersection of two major freeways and connected to a $40 billion transit system. It is all here.

The big stumbling block is the disasterous measure A which was authored by Lothar of the Backwoods People 20 years ago. It is entirely responsible for the blight along North Main due to its economically unworkable height and density limits.

By rescinding Measure A and allowing walnut Creek to build density surrounding the BART station, 21st century developements with a campus feel and public spaces would create an international address, supporting more ammenities throughout the area from Pleasant Hill BART down to Kaiser hospital. It would eventually become a nice urban landscape that is very pedestrian and bicycle centric.

One disaster in the making is the goofy 4 story transit village at the Walnut Creek BART station. It won't work with 4 stories and needs to be 8 to 10 stories. If that were to happen, a whole higher level of Architecture would manifest itself toward a new iconic presence this side of the Caldicott. The current Architects are doing the best possible job working within draconian height and density limits. But once it is built, then that is it. We're stuck with it.

For those who want small town, I say move to one of the infinate number of bland everytowns that now dot the landscape from here to Ogalala Nebraska.

Anonymous said...

Tate, you are such a joker...right?

If not, then go away as you have mentioned none of the need or infrastructure required to support your looney ideas of growth for Walnut Creek.

Fill up the Pleasant Hill transit village, the Mercer and 555 Ygnacio before you even think about builiding at the Walnut Creek BART station.

Anonymous said...

I'm interested in Tate's response at 11:06 -- partly because, as a relative newcomer to WC, I do NOT know what the story is behind North Main Street.

What IS the deal with that street? Given that I live on Jones without a car, I sometimes walk the trail leading under the freeway/BART tracks and come up on Jones to run errands at the hardware or paint store. A couple times, I've walked up Main to get to the little market up near the strip mall -- but gah! North Main street gives me the creeps. I don't mean it scares me; it just looks so "blah," it's depressing.

What IS the story on Main Street? North Main, I mean. It seems like the back-end, poor-cousin member of the community that nobody talks about, and that is contrary to the image Walnut Creek has, with its jewel-box downtown, its trails, its open space, its higher-end demographics, etc. ... Can anyone clue me in on why North Main looks the way it does? Is it just a case of, every town has to have one somewhat cruddy-looking street, and North Main is that street for Walnut Creek?

Anonymous said...

P.S. Though I don't know the players involved and all the ins and outs, I got a kick out of Tate's reference to Lothar of the Backwoods People. Made me chuckle.

Anonymous said...

8:38 am sounds a whole lot like Lothar of the Backwoods to me.

Anonymous said...

So Tate, maybe you're the one who should move... to LA or SF where you will be surrounded by a "nice urban landscape". We moved here because it was safe, it had excellent schools and its setting with the foothills and mountain was appealing...a beautiful suburb.

We are grateful that measure A is in place. If you're interested in repealing it you might want to take a poll first. Residents, even the "intellectuals" would not vote for it.

Tate said...

Regarding what the deal with North Main Street,from Ignacio Valley road north to Treat, including the multi-acre old co-op just north of Treat, is an area described under Measure A to have height limits ranging from 25 ft to 35 ft max. The old Co-op site has been fenced off for decades and will remain so for ever because of the uneconomical height limit of 25 ft. Until Measure A is gone, that site will just get creepier.

With few exceptions around the Bart Station and along North Main Street, nothing will change. Maybe an old delapidated building will change tenents once in a while as has happened over the decades, but there will never be a welcoming upgrade that WC could be proud of. The area will just continue to rot.

you may have noticed around the so called golden tiangle, the blocks containing the few pre-measure A "sky scrapers" (Architecturally, they have stood the test of time), several empty lots some with old rotting ranch style rental homes tucked next to the freeway. Those sites too, will never develope due to unworkable demensions described under Measure A. The sites will just rot and the area will never have the density or the energy required to support restaurants, the arts or shopping. People get off BART trains and leave in their cars.

Lothar of the Backwoods People likes it like this.

Anonymous said...

Oh Tate the Enlightened One,

North Main Street is the "service" area of town. Like it or not, every town needs one to survive. If you have any institutional
memory at all you will recall that there used to be several paint stores in the downtown shopping
area......now they are on N. Main where they are a better fit. (doubt that Nordstroms would appreciate Kelly-Moore as a neighbor on Broadway)

Measure A has served it's purpose and was passed by an angry electorate only after city staff and council members didn't listen to the people about rampant growth by greedy ddevelopers. Sound familiar?

By the way, that busy street that goes out to the valley is spelled with a Y as in Ygnacio Valley Road.

Anonymous said...

To Anon at 2-1-10 at 6:50.

Yep, alot of the remnant shacks I speak of are west of I-680. Many have been gentrified (a good thing) which has supported the property values of "Long Time Walnut Creek residents" who fail to reinvest in their own property.

Alot of long-term residents feel that being a long-time resident gives them more "rights" than new residents. For example, second story additions has been a big issue. The last time I checked the US Constitution there was no "Right to Privacy". The Constitution (and case law) provides a "reasonable expectation of privacy".

The city's municipal code concentrates intense land use activities in the "Core Area". I suppose those who complain about three-story, multi-family buildings next to their Almond-Shuey bungalows should have considered living in the suburban areas of the City where two stories is all that is allowed.

WC is a 'burb with a big town feel in the Core and tract homes/neighborhoods at its ring. In the end, it's still a suburb.

Thanks to Measure A and the former deadbeat owner Pat Stull, the Co-Op site has been a blighted property for over 20 years. Measure A was a poorly thought out initiative that failed to analyze unintended consequences - just like most initiatives (three-strikes, Prop 13, medical marijuana).

~YYZ

Anonymous said...

YYZ

Why do you hate "long time residents" so much? In the older neighborhood where I live almost every home has been upgraded with need for more space as families grow. Sure has made the neighborhood nicer and has enhanced everyone's property values. The reason people stay in their homes a long time in Walnut Creek is that they like the neighborhood, schools and convenience of being near downtown. Those who have not chosen to enlarge their homes should not be castigated by anyone. Not everyone "needs"
3,000+ sq. ft. to enjoy their home.

"The city's municipal code concentrates intense land use activities in the "Core Area" Wrong.....it is the General Plan that dictates growth management and as shown by the Neiman Marcus proposal, can be easily amended by the City Council.

I agree that Walnut Creek is a suburb and I hope that is always stays that way!!!

Tate said...

Oh Anonymous 8:21am,

I am a lousy speller (still). But as a heads up for you "develpment" is spelled with only one "d".

Regarding you angry electorate, Measure A passed on an off election year by all of 5% from a total voter turnout of 4,000 out of a population of 60,000. Thats a 2,000 angry electorate - which isn't all that impressive. I doubt it would pass again based on the 72% landslide in the recent local election supporting Neiman Marcus. Incidentally, it likely wouldn't have passed if a certain wealthy and greedy developer from San Ramon hadn't kicked in a large cash infusion so that his developments around San Ramon would then reap the type A tenants that otherwise were destined for Walnut Creek. It was his effort to terminate Walnut Creek's progress toward an appropriate and organic growth track. Sound familiar?

But I digress. The "service" area you are talking about is ok for north of the freeway but for the area near BART, one story autobody and tire shops near the station is poor stewardship of a transit hub.

Given the choice of residential density around BART, I think the local populace would see clearly to rescind Measure A. Otherswise the city has to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for each election everytime a well thoughtout and apporpriate developement can be built.

Measure A was flawed from the begining and will continue to cost the City millions to deal with, while all along, forfeit Millions in tax revenue for years to come.

Anonymous said...

The one concession that Neiman Marcus made after the first initiative was to lower the height. They were polling residents through all this and knew that if they lowered the height the project would be more palatable for voters. WC residents have no intention of turning their suburd setting into an "urban landscape".