The "Shadowy" Suspects Behind the Plot to Derail WC’s Neiman Marcus Project

The managers of Sunvalley Mall? San Ramon’s Sunset Development? Other nefarious mall operators who don’t want Walnut Creek’s highly esteemed Broadway Plaza to continue to succeed?

Who amonst these “suspects” is plotting against the effort to bring a Neiman Marcus department store to Walnut Creek?

The plot thickens.

The Contra Costa Times continues to try to get to the bottom of the mystery of which “entity has shelled out thousands of dollars on mailers, robocalls, a referendum and a lawsuit in a campaign to squash Broadway Plaza owner Macerich’s deal to open a Neiman Marcus.”

Lisa Vorderbrueggen, the Times political editor, addresses the “secrecy” surrounding this campaign against Dallas-based Nieman Marcus in a recent column, titled “Secrecy Dogs Walnut Creek Campaign.” She points out that this mysterious entitity has “recruited three Walnut Creek residents—veterans of the city’s growth wars—to sign the referendum petition and lawsuit.”

More than 5,000 residents have signed a petition to place a referendum on the ballot that could ultimately block a Neiman Marcus store from coming to downtown Walnut Creek. Meanwhile, the lawsuit alleges the city’s environmental review of the proposed Neiman Marcus store failed to properly analyze the effects of the project, which plaintiffs say violates both the California Environmental Quality Act and Walnut Creek’s own municipal code.

The three residents involved in the referendum and lawsuit are telling people they neither know nor care who is paying the bills,” according to Vorderbrueggen.

Vorderbrueggen says the “front man” in this campaign is Al Abrams, “a Southern California spinmeister, owner owner of Tarzana-based Abrams Creative Services,” and self-described “real estate journalist.”

According to Vorderbrueggen, Abrams has told a Contra Costa Times reporter only that he works for the Irvine-based real estate law firm that filed a lawsuit against the city.

Anyway, here is what Vorderbrueggen says about her top suspects in the effort to prevent Nieman Marcus from coming to Broadway Plaza. She says she leans on Woodward and Bernstein’s advice to to “follow the money” and comes up with several possible suspects. Quoting Vorderbrueggen we have:

–Taubman Centers Inc. manages the enclosed Sunvalley mall in Concord and is one of the chief competitors of Broadway Plaza-owner Macerich. Abrams also lists Taubman as a client. A local economic development expert joked that Taubman executives “conduct secret rain dances every holiday because Broadway Plaza is an open-air mall.”

–Sunset Development in San Ramon has a deal to build the city’s new downtown center, which includes a mall with two anchor stores. San Ramon has not demanded a Neiman Marcus [or so says Vorderbrueggen], but it’s safe to say they are not keen on a Wal-Mart.

–Finally, mall operators jockey all over the country for top-tier tenants. Any one of Macerich’s competitors has motive and money.

Vorderbrueggen ends her column by saying these things about the anonymous backers of this anti-Neiman Marcus campaign:

Secrecy and good public policy are incompatible. Sunlight is the foundation of campaign finance disclosure laws and the direct result of an electorate who has repeatedly told policymakers that motive matters and money signals motive. A hidden agenda will rightfully cast a cloud of suspicion over this referendum if it makes it onto the ballot.

I respect and, support her point about the need for honesty and transparency. At the same time, as someone who is neutral on whether Neiman Marcus ultimately gets built in Broadway Plaza, I am still bothered by the Walnut Creek’s City Council decision to fast-track this project and grant Neiman Marcus concessions it’s not demanding of other merchants, such as requiring it to provide additional parking.

There are those who have openly expressed their opposition to the project. They are ordinary citizens and longtime Walnut Creek residents who care about their community and have made an honest effort to express their opposition through appropriate democratic channels.

It’s good that the Times is making an effort to uncover the identity of those secretly backing the anti-Neiman Marcus campaign. However, at the same time, it should be questioning the motives of City Council members who fast-tracked this project.

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