A group of Walnut Creek residents are embarking on yet another signature-gathering campaign, this one to get an initiative on the ballot that could affect downtown development for decades — giving residents a direct vote on development.

Its adoption would ease downtown parking and traffic problems, supporters say.

"What we are hoping is it will wake people up, especially the City Council ... and make them realize people are unhappy. You can send messages out and say 'fix this,'" said Selma King one of the initiative's supporters.

Opponents say the initiative, filed with the city Wednesday, is squarely aimed at Broadway Plaza, but could jeopardize all of downtown's future.

Brian Hirahara, a Walnut Creek resident and developer, said the initiative would "shut down" development.

"The initiative actually encourages strip mall development, with large surface parking lots incorporated into projects, which will destroy the quaintness and character of our downtown and force retailers and jobs into neighboring retail districts such as San Ramon," Hirahara said.

To get on the ballot, initiatives first have to be reviewed by the city attorney. Petition gatherers then have 180 days to secure the signatures of 15 percent of Walnut Creek voters for a special election.

The 21-page initiative brought by members of Residents and Advocates for More Parking and Reduced Traffic is extensive. 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.

The "retail gateway area" is a part of downtown bordered by Mt. Diablo Boulevard on the north, Broadway on the east, Newell Avenue on the South and California Boulevard on the west. This is where Cheesecake Factory restaurant and the Barnes and Noble and Ross stores are located, as is Broadway Plaza in its entirety and the proposed site for the Neiman Marcus store.

The area was chosen because it is where the group wanted to focus, said King. This initiative wouldn't solve the current traffic problems in downtown, King said, but would hopefully help prevent future ones.

This effort will add to an already petition-inundated Walnut Creek. Over the past five weeks, residents have been asked to sign two basically anti-Neiman referendum petitions. That effort is backed by Taubman Centers, which owns Sunvalley Mall in Concord. Macerich, owner of Broadway Plaza, is helping residents to circulate their own pro-Neiman Marcus initiative.

Chuck Davis, vice president of development for Macerich, said the new Taubman-backed initiative is meant to confuse voters and delay the Neiman project. "At this point, we know that it's an all-out assault on Broadway Plaza," Davis said.

Reach Elisabeth Nardi at 925-952-2617 or enardi@bayareanewsgroup.com.