–The latest Nutshell to arrive in my mailbox, and, which you can, of course, view online, has City Manager Gary Pokorny saying that “things look pretty bleak for the coming years.” The city is facing a “staggering” budget shortfall that will exceed $7.3 million in 2009-10.
Pokorny says the economy has made things worse, but acknowledges that “our problem is structural and we’re going to have to make fundamental changes in our expectations and focus on the essentials.”
The city has already frozen 22 positions and will leave vacant jobs unfilled, but needs to do more, and is looking for more community input. The city just finished a series of “Community Partner” meetings, and will announce another series in the near future.
–What about all those empty storefronts you see around town, including most recently, Viking Home Chef and Z Gallerie? Not too worry! So says the Contra Costa Times. In a business article, “Walnut Creek Realty Heating Up,” the Times says that commercial realty investors are snapping up downtown parcels, where prices are down as much as 10 percent.
Parcels recently sold include the sites occupied by Chili’s Bar & Grill and Z Gallerie. The article proclaims that property investors “exude” confidence about downtown Walnut Creek’s future and quotes a broker as saying that investors “think that whatever is happening with the economy, downtown Walnut Creek will survive and prosper.”
Let’s hope that’s the case. However, as fond as I am of my hometown, methinks the writer doth gush too much when he proclaims that Walnut Creek’s retail and restaurant scene “tops Oakland’s,” rivals “the best San Jose can muster” and “is worthy of being in the same conversation as San Francisco and Beverly Hills’ famed Rodeo Drive.”
Sure, I’ve seen shopping industry reports in which Walnut Creek’s retail scene is ranked in lists with San Francisco and Rodeo Drive, so, yeah, Walnut Creek can boast that shopping claim to fame.
But dining? Sorry, there are downtown restaurants that I love and chefs as talented as you’ll find anywhere. But in terms of reputation in the foodie world (and not just the world according to the SF Chronicle‘s Michael Bauer), Walnut Creek’s dining scene doesn’t rank with San Francisco, Oakland, or Berkeley. No, people don’t drive from all over the Bay Area to eat in Walnut Creek, not like they would to any of those cities or to Napa or Sonoma counties.
–One new investor who is bullish on Walnut Creek is Yul Kwon, the winner of the 2006 season of TV’s Survivor and a Walnut Creek native, who just opened a Red Mango frozen yogurt franchise in the former Maggie Moo’s. While Kwon agrees that opening a store in this economy is “frightening,” he tells the Times that “Walnut Creek is poised to grow when the economy rebounds. In an interview posted on Diablo magazine’s website, the Northgate High grad, who now lives in San Mateo, explains why he opened his sixth Red Mango store in Walnut Creek and how he’d love to move back to the East Bay in the future.
–But one potential investor, who could have helped Walnut Creek’s pursuit of stronger foodie pedigree has possibly backed out of plans to relocate here. That would be four-star Chef Roland Passot. He’s most famous for his Russian Hill restaurant La Folie (which I once had the privilege dine at; very romantic, delicious spot for a very special occasion date night!). But around here he was known for the Left Bank Brasserie in Pleasant Hill. Well, it was just announced that the affiliated company that runs Pleasant Hill Left Bank has shut it, But Passot has reportedly abandoned plans to move that Left Bank into downtown Walnut Creek. The Left Bank was supposed to set up on the ground floor of the Mercer condominium building, according to the website, SF Eater, but the “unforgiving economy” is forcing Passot to scale back his restaurant operations.
–Local day spa Changes has joined the fight to bring Neiman Marcus to Walnut Creek, sending out an e-mail urging customers who are Walnut Creek residents to sign a petition backing the pro-Broadway Plaza Initiative. Or better yet, the e-mail says, volunteer to join in the effort to gather signatures. The signatures are needed to place on the ballot an initiative that would affirm the City Council’s approval of the luxury department store coming to downtown Walnut Creek. The initiative “is a counter-attack to the bullying tactics of mall rival Taubman which as launched two referenda efforts against the city and Neiman Marcus,” the e-mail says.
The e-mail continues: “Your friends and neighbors have come together to protect what’s best about Walnut Creek and to defend our community from … Taubman Company—the owner of Sunvalley Mall who reportedly has interests in a new upscale mall planned for San Ramon.”