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Safeway, neighbors to discuss controversial expansion

on September 16, 2008

A public meeting will be held 7-9 p.m. Wednesday at Claremont Middle School to discuss controversial plans to expand the Safeway supermarket on College Avenue in Rockridge.

This will be the first meeting of a stakeholders group organized by Safeway after opposition from neighborhood organizations stymied building plans released in June.

The existing store was built in 1964, and occupies about 25,000 square feet. Safeway’s most recent building plan proposed to double the store’s floor space by taking over an adjacent lot occupied by a Union 76 gas station. The proposal also included an additional 16,000 square feet for small shops along the corner of Claremont and College Avenue. “We are looking to provide the customers in Oakland a wider selection of products in a store that is bigger, more energy efficient and more current,” said Esperanza Greenwood, Safeway Director of Public Affairs.

Neighborhood groups opposed the plan, saying a larger store would be out of scale with surrounding buildings, would increase gridlock, and would threaten local businesses. “There’s no reason why we need a mega-store in our intimate pedestrian neighborhood,” said Rockridge resident Nancy McKay, co-founder of Concerned Neighbors of College Avenue Safeway, which has spearheaded community opposition.

Safeway shelved its expansion plans in June after strong opposition at a community meeting called to discuss the proposal. In July, Safeway invited representatives of neighborhood groups, local merchants and owners of adjacent properties to form a working group to participate in developing new plans.

Working group member Stuart Flashman, chair of Rockridge Community Planning Council, said Safeway’s most recent building proposal made some steps towards meeting community concerns – like including space for smaller tenants – but he is disappointed with the company’s overall response. “It’s like they’ve been hearing things,” he said, “but they’ve got a lot of earwax in their ears.”  Flashman said he hopes the upcoming meeting will provide a chance to seriously discuss the core issues of the site proposal, particularly the building’s size. “The store is just way too big,” he said.

Wednesday will be the first in a series of six meetings where the working group can meet with Safeway representatives. Elisabeth Jewel, a community relations consultant hired by Safeway, said she anticipated participants would set an agenda for future meetings and determine which aspects of the building plans the working group will be able to weigh in on. “I expect there will be discussion about what’s on the table here,” she said.

Wednesday’s meeting will focus on discussion between Safeway and the stakeholders working group, but the meeting is open to the community, and time has been allotted for public feedback.

For those unable to attend, minutes will be posted at The following meeting will be at the same time and location on September 22.

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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