FOR WEEKS, I have contemplated how best to write about the Walnut Creek flap over Neiman Marcus coming to town. I have a vested interest. I live here and worked hard during my tenure as city manager to help shape the future of Walnut Creek.
There are many avenues to discuss but the bottom line is that this project is good for Walnut Creek, produces sorely needed revenue in difficult times, and, contrary to the utterances of the naysayers publicly leading the opposition, will not produce horrendous traffic and parking problems as alleged.
I have voted yes on Measure I and hope you do also.
Let's look first at the roots of the battle. It is not uncommon for some to wonder about whether this project is good for Walnut Creek. It is appropriate to question and challenge. Often this makes projects better. The opposition leadership in this case, however, comes from a small core group of people who have repeatedly never said yes to anything about Walnut Creek, have never worked toward solutions "... always just opposed, nor have they done anything to help shape this community into what it is today.
It is easy to be against something but hard to have a vision for the future and work to create it. There will be a few followers of this negative line of thinking, but mostly the community is happy with its city and its elected leadership.
It is almost criminal to see that over $1 million will be spent on this campaign. Most of this money comes from two sources, both outside the community. Flashy and slick advertising, political polling, extra ordinary public outreach beyond the norm, paid petition-signers and other campaign efforts have been funded by the Taubman Realty Group, who wants Neiman Marcus somewhere in its holdings outside but near Walnut Creek.
Macerich, the owners of Broadway Plaza finds it necessary to defend its proposal. Walnut Creek voters have become pawns in these competitors' game. Each is attempting to outdo the other. Absent the bankrolls of these two retail giants, it is not likely we would face this election. If only that $1 million could have been spent on something worthwhile.
There are bogus arguments in this campaign. Those opposed suggest there is no guarantee that Neiman Marcus will come. Why would Neiman Marcus not come to Walnut Creek? The demographics of the area and the Plaza's retail mix are compatible. The company has said it wants to be here and signed a lease to do so.
Opponents also suggest the company is getting a free ride on parking. This is not the case. In addition to the $1 million in transportation improvements Macerich will fund as part of this project approval, Macerich has pioneered the use of valet parking to entice customers, and the stacked parking arrangement for employees that will be employed is tried and true and will work.
Why would Macerich plunder the community and its own interests with inadequate parking when the essence of retail is location and provision of adequate parking? My experience is that retailers want more parking than government requires, not less. Besides, outside the peak Christmas season look at the many, many vacant parking spaces at the Broadway Plaza.
Opponents also allege Neiman Marcus will generate more traffic, parking nightmares, downtown gridlock. I have heard these arguments over and over again. Traffic generated by Neiman Marcus pales compared to other major retailers. Don't believe these absurd claims. There will be no gridlock and no parking problems. These are old, worn out arguments used by the opposition over and over again.
Opponents also suggest the language of the ballot measure is flawed. It is not. But no ballot measure was needed at all. The naysayers in this campaign and their sugar daddy financiers have twice paid petitioner gatherers to launch a ballot measure opposing this project. Out of self-defense Macerich has countered with its ballot measure. So, the opponents started this mess and now cry foul over language used in the measure.
Measure I should not be on the ballot at all! But it is for reasons noted. A yes vote is needed to support the long-term integrity of land use planning for Walnut Creek; planning that has studied and factually supported projects like this; planning that has produced this great community.
Neiman Marcus fits with the higher-caliber stores so prevalent in this major regional shopping center, creates new jobs, pays its way and generates revenue in support of the excellent city services we all receive.
Blubaugh is former Walnut Creek city manager and member of the citizen editorial board.