More Neiman Marcus ugliness: Opponents file suit to block City Council action on special election decision

As the Walnut Creek City Council was set Tuesday to consider whether to call a November 3 special election on the whole Neiman Marcus controversy, opponents of the project filed a awsuit, according to the Contra Costa Times.

Opponents want to block the City Council from accepting a staff recommendation that the November 3 ballot be based on what could be considered a pro-Neiman Marcus initiative.

The opponents, Walnut Creek residents Selma King and Ann Hinshaw, had put forth their own referendum. This referendum objected to the City Council’s May 19 decision to allow Broadway Plaza to build a two-story, 92,000-square-foot luxury department store.

They circulated a petition, gathered more than 7,000 signatures, purported to be from registered Walnut Creek voters, and filed it with the city. The city certified that the petition had the required number of signatures. This petition, if you don’t already know, received financial backing from Taubman Centers, a mall company in rivalry with Macerich, which owns Broadway Plaza.

Meanwhile, Walnut Creek residents who want Neiman Marcus to come to Walnut Creek circulated their own petition to place an initiative on the ballot. That petition also received the necessary number of signatures from registered voters. The initiative asks voters to approve building Neiman Marcus.

Legally, the King-Hinshaw referendum halted the project, and city staff figured the best way out of this mess was to have the City Council hand off the issue to voters.

But basing the ballot measure on the initiative, rather than on the referendum, “takes away the Walnut Creek citizens’ right to vote,” Hinshaw and King said in a joint statement, according to the Times.

City staff must have seen their objections to their referendum being sidelined—and possibly even this legal maneuver—coming.

In their agenda report, city staff offer these reasons for rejecting the King-Hinshaw referendum:
“Placing the initiative on the ballot will give Walnut Creek voters the full opportunity to decide whether the project is In the best interests of the City. Therefore, not placing the referenda on the same ballot at this time will not diminish the right of the voters to vote on the project.”

The city had the option to put both the referendum and the initiative on the ballot, but having both on the ballot “would create confusion,” staff said. “Further if the referenda and the initiative were all approved at the same election, it would result in the approval of two, subtly different projects, creating legal ambiguity about which approval takes precedence.”

Meanwhile, here is a summary of the project so far, which you can read in full on the city’s website:

On May 19, the City Council approved construction of the two-story, 92,000-square-foot Neiman Marcus. (This was a scaled down version of the project that the City Council approved in the fall. The original project would have involved a three-story Neiman Marcus, as well as transforming the five-story South Main Street garage into valet parking during peak shopping times to accommodate any influx of Neiman shoppers).

After the May 19 approval, the city subsequently received the two petitions from the anti- and pro-Neiman groups.

Petition 1: This King-Hinshaw challenge was based on the project’s size, specifically with what’s called the floor-area ratio. To fit two stories of a department store onto 1.59 acres at the corner of South Main Street and Mount Diablo Boulevard, the store would need a higher floor-area ratio than allowed under the city’s General Plan. At its May 19 meeting, the city said “okay” to a General Plan amendment, allowing an increase in that ratio.

Petition 2: The initiative would allow voters to say “yes” or “no” to the project that was approved by the city on May 19. Besides increasing the floor-area ratio, the city said yes to an interesting idea for how Broadway Plaza would accommodate additional shoppers needing parking space. The idea has to do with instituting an employee-only attendant parking program and installing mechanical lifts, and stacked and tandem parking spaces, into the South Main Street parking garage.

Once the first petition for the referendum was filed, on July 2, and the city, under state law, had to halt the project and think about calling for a special election.

So that’s what staff says the City Council should do: Call a special election.

“Given the long, significant public engagement in this project, staff believes that the Walnut Creek voters should be given the opportunity to vote on the initiative without delay,” staff says.

“Significant public engagement”–That’s putting it, uh, politely.

A special election will be costly: About $300,000 but some of those costs could be offset, according to the Contra Costa County Elections division, by the fact that the CD10 special election is also scheduled for that day, as are elections involving the city of San Ramon and two local school districts.

Back to the lawsuit: While King tells the Times that it is presumptuous to think Macerich’s initiative is an impartial measure, City Attorney Paul Valle-Riestra suggests the lawsuit is presumptuous, in that it asks the court to set aside a decision that had not yet been made yet.

8 thoughts on “More Neiman Marcus ugliness: Opponents file suit to block City Council action on special election decision

  1. Good Morning Soccer Mom,

    How are you today. Hey, if you have some free time and an SUV today. I'll be in WC on Locust at the Farmers' Market. I actually need HELP with someone reliable with another vehicle.

    Produce donations have been promised to me. Check your email I sent last night. Cases and cases and cases of tomatoes from a VERY GENEROUS farmer who needs me to pick up today at a very specific time.

    Come for coffee, help the The Lemon Lady. 🙂

    Have a good weekend.
    Cell: 510-406-1625


  2. Why does Selma King and Ann Hinshaw really care? Do they just want attention or are they trying to get even for something the city did to them? I wonder if they even go downtown.


  3. i guess the city council will
    do what they think will get the
    NM store approved. i feel the
    people of wc will be miffed
    if the petitions they signed
    are deemed meaninless and the deck
    is stacked against them.


  4. This thing has to end, it has taken up way too much time, energy and money. I agree with 8:16 Anon though, it would be interesting to see what is up with the two women who followed suit?


  5. Won't people get to vote on Neiman Marcus either way? So if people are against it, they can still vote 'no'. It will be good to have the whole community finally say yes or no to Nieman Marcus, no matter which petition (the pro- or the anti-) gets on the ballot. And then maybe it CAN come to an end.


  6. If we vote only on the city's initiative will it be for Neiman Marcus or a store SUCH AS Neiman Marcus? The wording on the city backed initiative was pretty lengthy and stated “a store such as Neiman Marcus”.


  7. OMG!, It HAS to end. !! or how will we survive, i mean, omg, i have to have these pants and the store is going to close, OMG!!


  8. Could this whole thing get any more complicated and drawn-out? Part of me is tempted to say: “A plague on both their houses! Forget NM, forget all chain stores and the retail developers on both sides of the controversy. Bring back the barter system!” (LOL)

    But at the same time, I suspect the opponents of the Neiman Marcus project have a strategy of trying to Wear Us All Down, to the point that those of us who initially supported the NM construction wind up opposing it just for the sake of being DONE with the whole danged thing. So, instead, I say: Build the new NM, and a big thumbs down to the segment of the opponents who use stealth drives and sneakery and duplicity to try to get their way.


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