Guest Commentary on the Neiman Marcus debate: Al Abrams of RAMPART explains the No on Measure I position

Dear Readers:

I’ve invited representatives on both sides of the Measure I debate to share guest commentaries on CrazyinSuburbia. Measure I essentially asks Walnut Creek voters to say yes or no to allowing a new 92,000-square-foot Neiman Marcus–or another department store–to come to Broadway Plaza.

With these guest commentaries, I wanted to let both sides make their pitches. There’s no doubt that what either side says will provoke comments, questions, and a strong desire to rebut. In part, that is what the message board is for, to comment, question, raise points for or against. But your comments can inspire follow-up questions, and we’ll definitely want those answers before we go to the polls on this issue November 3. (Actually, I live in unincorporated Walnut Creek, so–boo-hoo–I don’t get to vote

Anyway, here is what Al Abrams, a political consultant, working with the No on I group, RAMPARTWC, has to say:

Actually, most of the No on Measure I action is being done by the citizens in Walnut Creek who have been opposed to this project from the beginning, starting in 2008. They include three former Mayors, a former City Councilperson, a Planning Commissioner and others. They helped write the three referenda (all of which were successful having collected over 15,000 signatures of Walnut Creek registered voters) and they work every day making phone calls and distributing yard signs and bumper stickers.

The first referendum in 2008 led to the recission of the City Council’s approvals of the project. The final two referenda, which were successful this past summer, were not placed on the November ballot by the City Council as they were supposed to be. The City Council was then sued by the members of RAMPART on behalf of the citizens of Walnut Creek. Superior Court

Judge David Flinn ruled that by ignoring the referenda, the Walnut Creek City Council had violated State laws in order to affect the outcome of an election. Their actions were described by the judge as “arbitrary and capricious”. He said that the City Council had stomped on the fundamental democratic rights of the citizens of Walnut Creek. They were willing to sell their city down the creek and violate the rights of their own citizens, all for a developer of a retail store.

The City Council was then forced to repeal all of their approvals of the Neiman Marcus project, which they did in early September. But they had successfully delayed the situation enough to make it impossible for the referenda to be decided by the voters of Walnut Creek on the ballot. The County Registrar said it was too late. So the voters must send a message to City Council and see through this attempt to take away their democratic rights by rejecting Measure I.

According to Time Magazine (Sept. 18th edition), Neiman Marcus is in serious financial shape, laying off hundreds of employees and suffering hundreds of millions in losses. Their debt is in the billions. One recent writer to the Contra Costa Times pondered in a letter whether Neiman’s would secretly like Measure I to fail so that they could nullify their 20-year lease with Macerich, the owner/developer of Broadway Plaza, and get out of town as soon as possible.

They’re in no shape to build any new stores anywhere, especially in Walnut Creek. The phony Yes on Measure I promises of $400,000 in new sales tax revenue, 150 new jobs and 172 new parking spaces are pure fiction. Baloney might be a better word. Measure I would make permanent changes to the city’s General Plan that not even the City Council could reverse.

Measure I is basically a sweetheart deal for a Southern California developer that gets it off the hook to provide new customer parking as the law now requires. Instead, they will be allowed to get around the law and use a variety of stacked up valet parking schemes and double-decker parking lifts in place of the new customer parking they are supposed to build. Measure I is a bogus initiative, written and financed by a developer whose only interest is self-interest. That’s why they’re willing to spend over $1 million so far to get what they want. Those are public numbers.

They’ve spent over $500,000 just for their initiative, Measure I. You don’t do that as charity. It’s all about profit. In truth, Neiman Marcus isn’t even specified in Measure I. The developer can put in any retailer it wants and no one will have the ability to stop it if Measure I passes. Unless the voters get the facts, they will create permanent law for the benefit of a single developer.

It’s public record that Neiman Marcus has stated that they need tens of thousands of customers to come from a 50-mile wide radius in order for the store to succeed. That will bring in long parades of cars into the already congested downtown area taking up space on the streets.

Measure I is a recipe for parking and traffic nightmares downtown — and the developer refuses to build any new parking spaces. No matter how you feel about having a Neiman Marcus store, and the odds are slight it will ever be built here, Measure I deserves to be defeated strictly on the basis that developer influence has warped the judgment of the City Council to the point where they had to be chastised by a Superior Court Judge for showing favoritism to affect an election.

It’s shameful at the least, and should be worrisome to any person with a sense of fairness and decency. In my 30 years of providing public affairs counsel to companies and citizens, I have never seen a situation where a City Council, and a former Mayor, think that they know better than their own citizens about the future of their city. It’s outrageous and dangerous. The people need to reclaim their voice, and show their strength with their votes and reject Measure I.

–Al Abrams, political consultant, RAMPARTWC, Residents and Advocates for More Parking and Reduced Traffic

5 thoughts on “Guest Commentary on the Neiman Marcus debate: Al Abrams of RAMPART explains the No on Measure I position

  1. Perfect timing. Just yesterday the FTC announced that it will push to revise the laws of disclosure on blogging.

    This guest blog is a prime example of why this is necessary. Al Abrams makes his entry look like a journalistic editorial but conveniently stays silent about the fact that this is actually nothing more than an add and he ignores who is paying him to write this add, which of course is Taubman a rival out of town mall developer.

    This blog also further confirms for me, based on some of the writing style, that many of the anonymous postings in response to other blog entires we have seen on this subject might indeed have been from the pen of Al Abrams, a paid consultant who has no ties to Walnut Creek.


  2. Al, I get the point about profit. As an old professor told me in business 101, “business is about making a profit, how much profit, as much as possible”. Of course you can't sustain unless you follow good business practices.

    My question, why would a mall developer / major retailer plan to operate in a space with a 50 mile “parade of cars”, gridlock on the streets and no place to park?

    I'm thinking they did some research here and since they are profit motivated I'm sure their view of the future based on their analysis is quit different from yours.

    Al, what's your motivation?


  3. Today's flier from the Yes on I folks reads that they will be “rebuilding the old David M. Brian building and constructing the new Neiman Marcus”. My understanding has always been that David M's would be torn down along with 3 adjacent stores and NM would be built from the ground up. Does anyone know?


  4. The signatures were ALL collected by out-of-town bums paid for by Al's boss – the Taubman Group – won't it be exciting when this sleaze machine starts running a mall in San Ramon – instead of City Center maybe it will be called Lies And Things


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