The battle for the soul of Walnut Creek–over a luxury department store–grows even more muddled

Okay, those RAMPART people are now embarking on their own signature-gathering campaign to put yet another initiative up to Walnut Creek voters regarding the future of downtown growth–actually the future of Neiman Marcus in Broadway Plaza.

The Contra Costa Times Elisabeth Nardi reports this morning that the initative was filed with the city Wednesday, and is “aimed” at Broadway Plaza, but could effect all development in the downtown core area.

This is the third signature-gathering campaign to hit Walnut Creek in the past few weeks. Or maybe the fourth? The Times says residents “have been asked to sign two basically anti-Neiman referendum petitions.” Huh? I’m confused. But I’m probably not the only one.

Anyway, this newest initiative comes from those RAMPART people. This acronym stands for Residents and Advocates for More Parking and Reduced Traffic. And, according to Nardi, their initiative is, like their name, lengthy. Twenty-one pages. Is anyone going to take the time to read it? They are almost as long-winded as I am!

The initiative is also far reaching:

“It adds language to the city’s general plan and municipal code in several areas; it calls for a vote by the people for any new, or addition, to a retail project at or over 40,000-square feet in the “retail gateway area.” The initiative also mandates that height limits in the retail area can’t change without a vote of the people. Also, physical parking spaces must be built for development at or over 40,000 square feet, according to the initiative; valet or mechanical parking lifts could not be used or considered as new parking.”

Is it just me, or is this whole battle over a department store entering the realm of the absurd, if it hasn’t already? With all these competing initiatives and signature gatherers yelling at shoppers downtown, and vice versa, and a signature gatherer for one of these initiatives even getting arrested last week at the Shadelands farmers market for pushing someone?

One person commenting on an earlier story said, well, at least people in Walnut Creek are getting hot and bothered and feisty about something. Isn’t that kind of exciting? You know, residents becoming all engaged in their community and its development future and all that.

I guess.

But wouldn’t it be nice if people were getting engaged in their community over an issue that involves something more–ideologically and civically lofty–than a luxury department store?

Does the soul of Walnut Creek really lie in this retail project? Neiman Marcus, er Needless Markup, ha ha ha. A store that, in the national psyche, represents conspicuous consumption? Is this really the issue over which residents and city leaders are going to fight tooth and nail?

Oh, the liberal, socialist, commie, pinko in me is rambling.

I know that supporters of Neiman Marcus coming to Broadway Plaza say that the store will bring in revenue that will allow the city to support those valuable and and more lofty civic-enriching programs we all care about: public safety, arts, recreation. They also say that fighting for this store is really about fighting for the right of city residents to be free to decide their own destiny, free of the outside, big-money influences represented by historically litigious, Michigan-based mall company Taubman.

Neiman Marcus opponents say that they, too, are fighting for the right of Walnut Creek residents to decide their own destiny–to be free of the outside, big money-influences represented by Southern California-based Macerich, which owns Broadway Plaza.

Here’s a thought: Maybe engagement in this battle gives Walnut Creek residents and city and business leaders a chance to believe that they are exercising some control in their small corner of the world–when the rest of the world seems so out of control, so uncertain. We’ve got the recession, and civic unrest in Iran, and two wars, and North Korea threatening world destruction. We’ve got the death of the King of Pop. We’ve got the state budget mess, although this Neiman Marcus battle, with all its competing initiatives, is starting to remind me of the dysfunctional state initiative process that has contributed to our state budget mess.

Something for all of us to ponder, including our city and business leaders. And I’ll stop rambling.

69 thoughts on “The battle for the soul of Walnut Creek–over a luxury department store–grows even more muddled

  1. Anon 7:52 AM:
    I didn't post the comment about the too big and too expensive library design, but I share the poster's viewpoint. Here are some areas where I feel needless costs were added:

    1> There are architectural elements to the new library – like the grand staircase and other 2-story air spaces which add to the bulk of the building and the cost. You still have to enclose those spaces with walls and a roof.

    2> Meeting rooms were considered “essential” in the library, even though we already have meeting rooms just steps away in Civic Park. I attended a Neiman Marcus presentation in the Civic Park Community Room earlier this year and, while not as elegant as I'm sure the new library meeting room will be, it served the purpose.

    3> The new library was designed with shelf space for 213,000 books based on some average ratio of books to population. That's looking backwards instead of forwards. The wealth of information available on the Internet already exceeds that which can be contained within 4 walls, and a library's worth of information can already be stored on extremely small electronic devices. How long will it be before you go to the library and instead of walking out with a book, you walk out with the CONTENTS of a book downloaded to your netbook PC, Kindle or thumb drive? Do we really need shelf space for 213,000 books in a library that is supposed to serve us for the coming decades?

    I raised these points at a City Council public hearing. The comments fell upon deaf ears.

    I think that NM and much of the controversy surrounding it is another case of deaf ear syndrome.

    Which is more upsetting – that an outside interest with ulterior motives is meddling in the Council's grand Broadway Plaza expansion plans, or that no sugar daddy stepped forward to rein in the Council's grand library plans?

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  2. Responding to 11:39pm

    #1 – This reminds me of my friends current addition to his house. He's increasing the size but also adding a large entryway with an addition peaked roof over it. It will not add any real functional square footage but will make the house more inviting. Probably the same idea with the grand staircase.

    #2 I took my daughter to a number of Children's programs. They crammed the kids in a room that looked to be an old closet. Glad to hear they will have more room at the new place. I'm thinking the civic park rooms are under some other ownership than the library and thus aren't used for library purposes. Hey if it was all the same ownership they should've dropped those buildings and incorporated them into the design. Probably would've been cheaper.

    #3 I like your futuristic thinking. I don't think were ready for the school system/PTA/parents to be buying Kindles for everyone. I know information is on the internet but I still see newspapers being delivered, Barnes and Noble still selling books and magazines being sold.

    My kid and all her friends go the library about every other week. It's great for their exposure to learning.

    Now to get back to this thread about NM and considering #3, with all the internet retail available why are adding stores to shopping areas?

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  3. Anon 7/4, 11:39pm

    “I raised these points at a City Council public hearing. The comments fell upon deaf ears.”

    Making a public comment does not mean that a government entity must follow the commenter's orders. However, they are required to take public comment into consideration along with staff recommendations and other input.

    If one feels that wrong decisions have been made, the solution is to elect candidates with whom one agrees on substantive issues (or to run oneself). For example, an anti-library candidate was fielded in Walnut Creek City Council elections both in 2006 and 2008. He lost by a wide margin in spite of having support from a portion of the community.

    So, Anon 11:39, will you throw your hat into the ring for the 2010 election?

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  4. In addition 9:08am, I'm sure the council hears public comments and attempts to validate the issue. For example, comments that not enough parking exist and it takes 15 minutes to cross town are part of the public comment.
    Some of the public comment may not match reality so it falls on deaf ears as it should.

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  5. The Danville Library is 18,000sf.
    The Orinda Library is 24,400 sf.
    According to the Lafayette Library website, their library will be 34,973 sf (it's under construction). The Walnut Creek Library website doesn't mention the square footage but I believe it to be 42,000 square feet. The new library will be in addition to the WC Ygnacio Library as well as the “books to go” library that serves Rossmoor. Those that opposed the library plan did so mainly because of its size, the expensive parking garage and its encroachment into Civic Park. Those who oppose Neiman Marcus have similar concerns about its size but as with the library they are ignored. Ironically, Taubman (an outside developer) is giving them a voice.

    Perhaps Taubman should financially support a candidate that has not been hand picked by City Hall and represents residents who believe inreasonable development. After all, the playing field here in WC has never been level, with city supported candidates receiving donations from Chamber of Commerce interests and developers including Macerich (another outside developer) The reality is that the money it takes to win an election in WC comes mainly from those concerned with lining their own pockets.

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  6. Dublin (pop. 47K) Library Facts from their website….

    “Built by the City of Dublin and designed by BSA Architects, our new library opened in Spring 2003. It is a spacious, attractive building enhanced by public art. Enjoy the stained glass windows in the rotunda, the mural in the children's area and the whimsical columns that greet you at the front entrance. Phase one of the building contains 29,945 square feet, which will expand to 38,120 square feet when fully completed.”

    Livermore (pop. 80k) Main library alone is about 35K square feet, very nice design.

    Ok folks I didn't have opinion if it was too bit, too fancy before I did this research and read Anon 12:10pm. I've concluded that the WC Library is basically in line with others and even a bit smaller considering our population than other local libraries built in the last 5 or so years. They contain meeting rooms also.

    Thank You.

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  7. Annon 12:10

    “The reality is that the money it takes to win an election in WC comes mainly from those concerned with lining their own pockets.”

    But I'm sure the money Taubman funds in order to have a minority of residents create legal road blocks against the dully elected city counsel is spent out of the goodness of their heart and lining their own pockets would be the furthest from Taubman’s mind.

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  8. All:
    Anon 12:10pm points out that libraries in different cities are different sizes. Considering that cities have different populations, it is logical to have a discussion about this parameter by normalizing library size to population. Thus, the calculation of squre feet of library space per resident is a figure of merit. Here are those numbers for the four cities cited in the last post:
    Danville 18,000/41,182 = 0.44
    Lafayette 34,973/25,011 = 1.40
    Orinda 24,400/18,259 = 1.34
    Walnut Creek 55,000/63,486 = 0.87
    (The 55,000 sq.ft.counts 13,000 for YV Library + 42,000 for downtown. It does not count Rossmoor, which is not a public library)

    A typical figure statewide is around 1 sq.ft. per person. Walnut Creek is not overbuilding its library from this perspective. In fact, Danville appears to need a larger library.

    Taubman can indeed finance candidates but can only give $150 for each. If any Taubman employees want to donate to a candidate, they have the same limits. All donors of $25 or more must supply their name, address, occupation and employer in reports filed with the CA FPPC and the City Clerk. The records are open to public inspection.

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  9. I don't think logic will convince the same people who still can't get over the library and fight the NM store. For example they object to the parking gragage for the library and complain about no enough parking when it comes to NM.

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  10. Anon 1:59pm, I agree. I read some of the articals on one side of the argument and they seem revenge oriented not analysis related like the posts above (12:59, 1:26).

    One coco times writer called out his hatred for the “#$%** flashing light” in his artical. Guess what side of the argument he's on…

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  11. Even teachers and students will admit that NO one goes to libraries anymore! More people will go to NM. Build NM! They should have left the old library alone.

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  12. Anon 2:36pm:

    That is an outrageous and unfounded statement! Are you another person whose thought processes are not interfered with by logic or one of the same tired old bunch?

    Logical people, please check the following article from the Contra Costa County Library website. The length of >4,096 characters precludes posting it here:

    http://ccclib.org/press_releases/economy.html

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  13. Obviously Anon 2:36 is simply a troll posting BS on bulletin boards to evoke a reaction.

    It goes without saying that even today libraries are just wonderful for a community.

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  14. Regarding anon 2:36: I don't think he's that far off. I would argue that older people especially senior citizens use libraries as do stay at home moms with their kids. But the majority of everyone else use their phones, computers, those i-book things from amazon and of course Barnes and Nobles and Borders bookstore.

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  15. Anon 7:44,
    Do you have information that Anon 2:36 is a male or is he, in fact, you? There is no content in that post regarding the sex of the poster.
    Wild speculation about a so-called decrease in library use is just that. Nationwide evidence based on electronic counters at library doors proves just the opposite.
    I am involved in a research project on an entirely different topic tonight so please do your own research. (You will receive extra credit for using reliable sources.)

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  16. The thread between the new library and Neiman Marcus is very thin, and yet not so. As one writer pointed out it is all about the frustration of some local residents who believe that the planners and City Council do not listen or hear, nor do they care to listen or hear any comments that do not agree with their pre-determined plans.

    Anon. 1:25 on 7/6- Yes, individuals personal and business contributions are limited by City Code and are open books because of FPPC rules. What you didn't say for some reason is that each election we see large amounts of money being spent on behalf of candidates by “Independant Expenditure Committees” (PACs) that quite often are hastily formed in support of the chosen candidates. They have great influence and certainly do make it difficult for the “unknown” candidate to get her/his message out to the voters on a level playing field. To now claim that “OUSTSIDERS” are taking over our city is a joke. It happened long before Taubman ever became involved in the NM fight.

    Other facts that you overlooked looked when doing your calculations of sq. footage to population are by not including the roughly 10,000 residents of Rossmoor, who do in fact use the library delivery service, public or not, and also that most people in the northern area of Walnut Creek use the Main Branch of the County Libary on the Pleasant Hill border because of convenience and because it is the MAIN branch. You simply cannot have honest calculations without including these two very populated areas of town.

    As to the argument about the library parking lot…..it is the cost that shocks and upsets the dissenters. By making all of the parking underground, the City is managing to spend around $13 million for 150 parking spaces…. only a net gain of FIFTY (50) spaces from the original street level lot. Pretty expensive parking for 50 more cars.

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  17. I'm Anon 1:25 from 7/6. I'll stick mostly to responses on library issues on this post.

    Anon 12:06 on July 7th wrote:
    “Other facts that you overlooked looked when doing your calculations of sq. footage to population are by not including the roughly 10,000 residents of Rossmoor, who do in fact use the library delivery service, public or not, and also that most people in the northern area of Walnut Creek use the Main Branch of the County Libary on the Pleasant Hill border because of convenience and because it is the MAIN branch. You simply cannot have honest calculations without including these two very populated areas of town.”

    Anon 12:06, you seem to be confused about what to leave in or out of a calculation of square feet of library per resident. you don't get to choose that. The calculation CANNOT be parsed because that would its definition. Taking Rossmoor residents out of the calculation because they have a delivery service is not valid. They are not locked in over there and many Rossmoor residents visit Walnut Creek, Lafayette or Orinda libraries. You also don't remove BART riders using the Books a Go GO service. You don't remove folks in WC that visit other branches like Pleasant Hill because it works both ways! Close to half of the Ygnacio Valley users are from Clayton and Concord. Also, note that Pleasant Hill services have been dramatically reduced as of 7/1 and it is now officially NOT the Central Library. Note also that Alamo residents will largely shift toward the new Walnut Creek branch when it opens and away from Danville. Finally, the residents of unincorporated Walnut Creek will be served as well. They number close to 20,000. So a conservative estimate still says WC has a lot less library space per resident than either Lafayetter or Orinda when the new downtown branch opens next summer.

    Oh shucks, I might as well repeat this point. The fact that City leaders may not follow your orders every time you give public comment does not mean that they don't “listen” to you. It does mean that your arguments were not as persuasive as the other input they evaluated. They have to make decisions that serve the whole City based upon all of the input they receive. If you don't like their decisions, run for office or support alternative candidates.

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  18. 3:10 pm
    “Oh shucks, I might as well repeat this point. The fact that City leaders may not follow your orders every time you give public comment does not mean that they don't “listen” to you. It does mean that your arguments were not as persuasive as the other input they evaluated. They have to make decisions that serve the whole City based upon all of the input they receive. If you don't like their decisions, run for office or support alternative candidates.”

    I have never spoken before the City Council to voice my views. I have, however, written letters to Council Members and have received by return mail the standard “Dear Constituent, thank you for your letter” form letter written by Brad Rovenpera that really did not address my concerns or give me concrete answers to questions I raised.

    I have very vigorously supported alternative candidates with contributions, canvassing and voting. Doesn't do much good when the “pre-chosen and annointed” candidates have all of the money on their side to tell their story.

    I do not wish to run for office as I have given much of my time to the City of Walnut Creek in other ways. Besides, if I won, you would be on blogspots complaining about my decisions as a council member and I can't take that kind of pressure at my age!

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