Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy Neiman Marcus ride: Cussing out! Death threats! Lawsuits! Petitions! FPPC regulations (huh?)!

Where to start, with what’s turning into Walnut Creek’s latest epic development battle—between residents, rival mall companies, and possibly between cities.

It could even be a struggle over Walnut Creek’s future, its identity, its soul

Okay, I might be getting a little too melodramatic (especially with my reference to Bette Davis’ famous quote in the classic film All About Eve.)

But I have to say I can’t believe how this debate, which started out like a “tropical depression” has erupted into a tempest worthy of categorization on the Saffir-Simpson Scale.

So, nearly two weeks ago the City Council says “yes” to Macerich, the owners of Broadway Plaza, bringing a Neiman Marcus to town. (This is the second time the council has said “yes.” The first time was in the fall, but then Macerich, facing lawsuits and a previous voter referendum, withdrew its original three-story, no-new-parking proposal, with a new two-story, 175-parking-place-scheme proposal.)

But this latest “yes” doesn’t really mean anything more than, “bring it on!” More debate, more legal challenges, more politicking, handwringing, and mudslinging. Just as the debate about same-sex marriage heats up nationally, and the pro- and anti-Proposition 8 advocates marshal their forces, so, do the forces on both sides of Walnut Creek’s Neiman Marcus debate.

The result is that the argument over whether Macerich should be allowed to bring this Dallas-based luxury department store to Walnut Creek has exploded into some bitter, f-bomb ugliness.

Here are some highlights of the past two week’s developments, including from news reports, and information and questions that readers shared with me”

Cussing out! Death threats!
There were some heated exchanges in downtown Walnut Creek between some shoppers and a group gathering 4,200 signatures to force a citywide vote on whether Neiman Marcus should come to Walnut Creek. The petitioners are being paid by Macerich’s mall developer rival, Michigan-based Taubman Corp. Taubman owns Sunvalley mall and is a potential retail developer for the San Ramon City Centre. I myself witnessed a couple of ugly exchanges last weekend outside Whole Foods. The Contra Costa Times reports other clashes through the week, including complaints that: some petitioners cussed out shoppers who are pro-Neiman Marcus; and one, from a signature gatherer, who says someone yelled a death threat at him.

In light of the Times reporting that the petitioners are said to be veterans of prior campaigns and paid $5 per signature they obtain, one reader, who, like me, is neutral on whether Neiman Marcus comes to Walnut Creek, shared his experience with this group at the Countrywood shopping center:

A signature gatherer came over to me. He asked “are you a registered WC voter”? When I declined to sign, before he would walk away, I asked “hey, are YOU a registered WC voter?” He grinned and said no, he’s paid to collect signatures.

It gets worse. A few minutes later, he approached me again (I guess he has a short memory) and another guy walked up and said “Oh hey, is that the petition to force a vote on Neiman Marcus? Let me sign that, I am SO WORRIED about parking downtown.” I ignored them again, but 20 minutes later saw the two of them getting into the same car. It’s one thing to hire people to collect signatures, but it’s another to hire actors (and bad ones at that).

Taubman’s past and present legal expenses to fight rival mall companies probably could rival some nations’ GDPs:
Apparently, Taubman was so unhappy that Los Angeles-based Macerich and its Broadway Plaza had landed a highly coveted Neiman Marcus store (which supporters say is vital to the city’s economic future) that it spent $100,000 to back a petition campaign to stall the project.

A pro-Neiman Marcus reader passed along this New York Times story about mall wars going on in affluent communities in Connecticut. Yes, Taubman was on one side of the battle. Even more head shaking: The story dates back to 1992. 1992! As of 1992, Taubman had already lost two court challenges, one that had gone all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court!

The story makes for interesting reading, and is illuminating for showing 1) the extent to which Taubman will expend money and time to wage war against a mall rival; and 2) how Walnut Creek should prepare for a protracted and costly battle over the future of Neiman Marcus in Broadway Plaza.

Residents who support Neiman Marcus
have formed Yes for Walnut Creek, which proclaims that Walnut Creek could lose big time if it doesn’t nab Neiman Marcus. That the loss of this retail opportunity could “deplete the revenues we rely on to sustain our police, roads, parks, open spaces, the arts and other vital community services.”

Yes for Walnut Creek Chair Brad Kofoed, in a Q&A with Crazy in Suburbia, says the group started a few weeks ago, and includes more than 1,000 supporters, including residents and past and present city letters. It is not being funded by Macerich or Broadway Plaza, rather by individual donations. The group has registered with the Fair Practices Political Commission, “as a community group formed to specifically battle this outside interference.” (More on FPPC regulations regarding political campaigns below, as requested by one reader.)

As the Times reported, a group of about 30 Neiman Marcus supporters rallied on a North Main Street sidewalk earlier this week to protest the petitioners’ tactics.

Residents who oppose Neiman Marcus—and have formed another group!
Walnut Creek residents Ann Hinshaw and Selma King (a former city planning commissioner) published their anti-Neiman Marcus editorial in Saturday’s Contra Costa Times. They assert that once again “the City Council has shown that they can’t, or won’t, do their job responsibly.” They say that the council gave Macerich “carte blanche” to speed this project forward and done a “pitiful job” representing the city, without dealing with the serious traffic and parking problems which will be made worse by a 92,000-square-foot store.”

Hinshaw and King argue that the city, facing a multimillion-dollar deficit, has received no guarantee that Neiman Marcus will actually become a tenant in Broadway Plaza or that this project will “bring it at least as much revenue as needed to provide city services.” They justify siding with Taubman, saying the company has funded their “right to dissent,” while Macerich and Neiman Marcus are “the real culprits … who appear to be taking advantage of the city.”

Their new organization (with a nifty acronym) is RAMPART, or Residents and Advocates for More Parking and Reduced Traffic. (Googled RAMPART: nothing has showed up yet.)

WC Downtown Business Association supports pro-Neiman Marcus group Yes to Walnut Creek:
The association on Friday sent out a reminder to members, saying that Neiman Marcus at Broadway Plaza is supported by the Walnut Creek Chamber of Commerce, the Walnut Creek Downtown Business Association, and the Contra Costa Association of Realtors.

Those FPPC regulations regarding political campaigns:
According to the California government code, disclosure of campaign contributions and expenditures in state and local elections, including ballot measures is required of “campaign committees.” (You can view these regulations at the Fair Political Practices Commission website.)

These committees include:
–Individuals and organizations that receive contributions–$1,000 or more in a calendar year–to support or oppose … or to qualify, support or oppose state or local ballot measures, including initiative, referendum and recall measures (either primarily formed to support or oppose a single candidate or ballot measure, or more than one candidate or measure being voted on in a single election, or general purpose to support or oppose a variety of candidates and/or measures);
–Major donor committees: Individuals or entities that use their own money (i.e., personal funds, corporate or business funds) to make contributions totaling $10,000 or more in a calendar year to candidates or to committees supporting or opposing candidates or ballot measures;
–Independent expenditure committees: Individuals or entities that use their own money to make “independent expenditures” totaling $1,000 or more in a calendar year to support or oppose candidates or measures (e.g., Jane Brown uses personal funds to send a mailing to voters or to purchase an advertisement supporting a candidate, but she does so independently–not in coordination with the candidate or his or her campaign committee).

26 thoughts on “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy Neiman Marcus ride: Cussing out! Death threats! Lawsuits! Petitions! FPPC regulations (huh?)!

  1. $5 per signature?
    i highly doubt that.

    if it’s true i will be happy to work for whoever needs some signatures. i could make a ton of money.



  2. Got a recorded message from a WC policeman warning me not to sign the petition. Would that be considered scare tactics?


  3. Anon 3:55

    Why would that be scare tactics? Did he say make any threats? Such as if you sign he would come and arrest you? or ticket you?

    So please before you accuse anybody on a blog why don't you try to use your brain first?


  4. Ha, Ha, the Yes for ‘Save Walnut Creek’ is the usual collection of council appointed commission lackeys, wanna-be’s, and kissers. Nothing new there.

    Gwen, Charlie, your fiefdom is imploding……

    The library parking spots cost 200K, and you are going to flood the neighborhoods until they sue you…..

    Guess since you are married to a lawyer, lawsuits is language you all understand.


  5. Went to Whole Foods late this afternoon and there was a very nicely dressed gentleman sitting at a cardtable collecting signatures for the new ballot measure. I paused at the grape display just to listen to what he had to say to potential signers and he was more than polite and explained openly and honestly just what the petition said and what it would accomplish if qualified. No hysterics, abuse, yelling or misinformation was going on as far as I could gather.

    As one man was signing, he inquired as to how it was going and the petitioner said that he had had a really rough day. He had been harassed by some Neiman supporters shouting at him about his actions costing the City over $300,000 for a possible election and had been generally niggled by others who didn’t appreciate him being there.

    I would personally like to see the cost anaylsis for a special election from the County and City Clerks office. There seems to be many figures being bandied about with no actual backup in print.

    I could give a fig less if Neiman Marcus ends up coming to town but I do care about how our elected and appointed officials react so outrageously to anything that they consider as opposition to their plans and decisions. They claim to have “listened” to the citizens of Walnut Creek on this issue but I wonder if they really “heard” the many voices raised in concern for the future of Walnut Creek because of their actions.


  6. <>Why would that be scare tactics? Did he say make any threats? Such as if you sign he would come and arrest you? or ticket you?

    So please before you accuse anybody on a blog why don’t you try to use your brain first?<>when a cop tells you to do something, or not do something, you are generally expected to do or not do as they say. that is the authority they wield. it is the authority society has given them.
    they dont have to explicitly tell you the consequences of not listening to them.

    for example, generally cops say something like “dont move” or “hands up”
    they tend not to say “dont move or will will arrest you for resisting arrest” or “hands up or i will assume you have a weapon and will tase you.”

    and there is no need for you to insult others by telling them to use their brains.



  7. Chad

    I can see why the “use your brain before posting” comment must have seemed offensive to you.

    If you can’t see the difference between a “don’t move” command by a police officer in a pursuit from a recorded call by a cop urging not to sign a petition, you too are either not using your brains or are trying to accuse the supporters of NM of scare tactics.


  8. I would hope that the recorded message came from a retired WC police officer.

    Seems to me that it would be most unethical to ask a current city employee to publicly voice his/her opinion on what has become a very political issue such as this.

    If city hall should think that this is in fact “fair play”, then why don’t we citizens encourage our local police officers to lend a public voice to their opinion of the new library. Just let them tell you how much they like millions being spent on a building that is too large while they are out patrolling our town without immediate backup available because of a budget crisis.


  9. SoccerMom, I’m like you- neutral, or I was anyway. The fact that this company has hired people to collect signatures with a financial bonus to collect said signatures makes me want NM more than ever. If this company wants people to take them seriously, used REAL WC residents who have a genuine interest in our city then I might listen. I had them come to our door last week with the petition and happily told them no as the woman was putting her can of Red Bull down on my doorstep to start her lecture. I told her no for my husband too who was standing right next to me (solicitors who neglect to read “no soliciting” signs really annoy him) and she looked at him and said, “Is that how you really feel or is your wife just saying that?” What the hell? I’ll gladly collect signatures for NM.


  10. Don’t understand the whole uproar about paid signature gatherers. It is common practice to pay folks to qualify issues for the ballot with paid people.

    Is everyone so naive to think that when they see someone standing outside their local grocery store getting signatures that they are doing so out of the goodness in their hearts?

    Come on folks, both sides in this argument are using highly paid and well known political consultants, in this case Eric Zell and Tom Koch, to fight their battle.

    Slick mailers, robo-calls to residents, paid petition circulators, expensive newspaper advertising are all a part of the game of politics.

    Moral of the story…..there are no real local efforts, for or against, in this fight. Rival businesses are using every known proven political trick to get their side of the story told. Anyone who believes otherwise is hiding their head in the sand.

    Let them continue, it’s good for the economy!


  11. I don’t know why the city officials
    are so upset to see this on the ballot. I thought this is what
    democracy was all about.


  12. It’s kind of unbelievable to me that an out of state conglomerate would try to get involved in our local politics to protect the hell on earth that is the Sun Valley Mall. Up until now, I’ve been indifferent but it’s not like NM is bulldozing a school, they’re just taking over some under performing space that’s already there.


  13. 11:58,

    If David M was under-performing so badly, why did Macerich spend so much money buying out his lease and re-locate his store to the new spot next to Crate and Barrel?

    Adding a high-end store like Neiman Marcus required a prime location and that happened to be the area that David M was occupying.

    Has it occurred to you that Taubman, the out of state conglomerate you refer to, has other shopping centers than Sun Valley Mall that are in competition with Macerich? Snidely referring to Sun Valley as hell on earth does not change the fact that Broadway Plaza is just another MALL and until the psst few years had many of the same stores as Sun Valley and other such malls.

    We are now witnessing the creation of SNOBWAY PLAZA here in Walnut Creek at the expense of losing our once unique downtown shopping area. Let’s learn a lesson from our neighbor to the south, Danville, to see how brand name stores and small local stores can co-exist nicely in a very successful downtown area. A very pleasant and appealing place to shop with plenty of parking.


  14. One of these mall developers are
    headquartered out of state and the other is headquartered in south
    state. Neither of them are ‘local’
    companies. Does it really matter?
    Each of them are looking out for their own financial interests.


  15. Hello All,

    I undertook to get definitive answers to three of the questions that have recently arisen in this message trail.

    (1) Cost of a Special Election in WC? The following is a quote from a letter to City Clerk Patrice Olds (925-943-5819) from the County Elections Division on April 6, 2009:

    “Estimate for City of Walnut Creek
    Registered voters as of 4-3-2009: 42,173

    Special Election
    Estimate for Special Polling Place Election 11-3-2009: $7.25 per registered voter*”

    If you do the math, 42,173 voters times $7.25 per voter works out to almost $306,000. So the Yes for Walnut Creek people were correct with that one.

    (2) Was the police officer in the robocll retired? Yes, as he clearly identified at the beginning of his call, Captain Dennis Bell is recently retired from the WCPD. It does not seem unethical for a retired person to share his views but I will wait to hear from the rest of you on that.

    (3) Does Yes for Walnut Creek have a paid consultant and does it take money from Broadway Plaza, Macerich, or Neiman Marcus? The answer in no to all of these. The first financial report of the Yes for Walnut Creek group (activities through June 30) will be submitted to the City Clerk before 5pm July 31. You will then be able to confirm my information on this point.



  16. My neighbor came to my door and asked us not to sign the petition. I view my neighbors opinion as more valid as he is in my jurisdiction and our kids go to school together.

    The democratic process is meant to be conducted from within the constituency. Our polling places and party elections are conducted by our own citizens. To have it funded and directed by commercial entities is undue influence and must be stopped.


  17. I signed the petition because of the traffic this store will generate.We are promised all this revenue but what about the cost to police and maintain downtown? Do we really want to become Mallnut Creek?


  18. Anonymous' 12:19 and 3:34 PM,

    I love it!


    Kind of catchy and oh so true. This is what our lovely town has become and we can't allow it to get any worse!

    Let the residents decide the future makeup of their city not the braintrust at city hall who are on a major power trip.


  19. I signed the petition like six times and I live in Southern California. But I wanted to help my girlfriend who was collecting the sigs to earn a little more money so that she could take us to a nice dinner.

    Suck it Walnut Creekians!


  20. “We are promised all this revenue but what about the cost to police and maintain downtown?”

    Yeah, with all the hooligans and degenerates going to NM, watch out WC! Hello, McFly, anyone home?


  21. Gosh, if we could only get as worked up about the potential closing of Mt Diablo State Park as we are about the opening of NM and this city would be a much better place. 😦


  22. Thanks Soccer Mom for getting the info from the FPPC – that seems to make it clear that they only need to register if a measure is involved.


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