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Safeway and Rockridge butt heads once again

on November 13, 2008


Nov. 13–Rockridge residents met for the fifth time in three months last night to discuss with Safeway representatives the supermarket’s planned reconstruction on College Avenue.  It was not a cheerful evening.  

Throughout the entire meeting at Claremont Middle School gymasium, during which everyone seemed to be in a near constant state of indignation and misery, there was perhaps a single piece of information that might constitute a development: Safeway representatives announced that they would present a preliminary design proposal for a potential new grocery store at the next meeting in three weeks, and that it would likely feature a layout of about 50,000 square feet.

An early rendering of a possible design

There goes the neighborhood...

Beyond that, the dialog between Safeway and residents of Rockridge remained in bitter stalemate. The residents’ concerns were the same as they had been: they don’t to compromise the intimate ambiance of College Ave between Claremont and Alcatraz, and they don’t want the new Safeway to drive the surrounding mom and pop shops out of business. At the core of these concerns is the fact that a 50,000 square foot building would double the area of the current building. “We’ve been coming to many meetings,” one woman said, exasperated, “and always on the top of the list is that we don’t want a bigger store!”

The people who have had the unenviable task of organizing and mediating this dialogue over the past three months are representatives from Global Consulting, a Berkeley-based organization that serves as the go-between in situations like this. And while the two affable, sharply dressed young Enact representatives began the meeting by distributing handouts summarizing the results of previous meetings, the corporate-style neatness and organization only seemed to make people angrier. The Enact representatives’ placating confidence displayed in the beginning was short-lived, though, and over the ensuing two and a half hours was thoroughly beaten out of them. By the end the reps had the exasperated look of Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House: “Remain calm! All is well!”

The trouble started from the get-go, when Pamela Hopkins of Enact announced that a design proposal would be presented at the next meeting,  not this one as previously planned. This development caused the Rockridge residents nearly to lose their collective minds, and it took a good twenty minutes for the vehement displays of indignation to be quelled enough to continue with the meeting.

Things were only exacerbated by what came next. Resident’s watched as David Blair, the architect hired by Safeway, gave a slide show presentation that focused on potential re-designs for the sidewalk facing College Ave. To the residents, this basically amounted to ten minutes of Things That Did Not Relate to a Specific Design Proposal, and the presentation was interrupted halfway through, giving way to another twenty minutes of vehement displays of indignation.

Regardless of what Enact had set as their agenda for the evening following the slide show, the concerned Rockridge residents would not be denied the open microphone session they wanted. This became a spectacle in itself, as the tension between some residents’ epic capacity for rambling and others’ understandable impatience to speak as well led to bickering, infighting, eye rolling, and other open displays of annoyance.

The microphone finally made it to a young woman—a college student, and one of only two people in attendance under thirty—who managed to summarize the residents’ feelings in a coherent way. She described how the section of Claremont-to-Alcatraz section of College Ave has a “certain symbiotic relationship,” in which most of the restaurants, stores, and coffee shops combine to make an all-inclusive urban ambiance. Referring to Blair’s beleaguered sidewalk plans, she said she feels that “I wouldn’t be welcome to sit on the benches near Safeway unless I’m going to shop at Safeway.” She said she has been coming to these meetings waiting for some specific design proposals to consider, but, like everyone else, is becoming frustrated that Safeway won’t show them any specific design plans. “I know you have a goal,” she said.  “But I can’t tell what that is.”  She received the evening’s only ovation.

That was about as civilized as it got. At one point, an older man in a black corduroy jacket suggested that Todd Paradis, a real estate manager for Safeway, and his company are not in touch with the soul of the neighborhood. “You don’t understand,” he told Paradis, “because you live in Hayward!” This seemed to cross some line—apparently there was a line—and Hopkins interjected, saying firmly, “These personal attacks are not constructive.” Someone nearby tried to calm things, telling the older man, “Now now, downtown Hayward is not so bad.”

The comments from the man in the corduroy jacket had in fact been provoked by an exchange minutes earlier. A young woman commented that Safeway “really needs to understand this neighborhood,” and suggested that Paradis go work at La Farine or Cole Coffe for a few weeks to really get it. Paradis responded with some frostiness, saying that he wasn’t hearing any real suggestions, just  “blah blah blah.” The woman took offense,  demanded an apology, and refusing to give up the microphone until she got one. A short standoff ensued. Forty aggravated people waited for him to respond, but Paradis wouldn’t cave. He just sat down and looked away, holding firm, despite all.||||||||||||||||||||||||||||||

1 Comment

  1. baffled on November 15, 2008 at 7:20 pm

    Do you think the angry old people who attend these meetings really represent the perspective of all the “residents” of the area? It would be better if this story included interviews of people who didn’t have the patience to sit through these negative, tiresome meetings attended by the same group of rambling old people.

    On the website “a Better Oakland”, I just finished reading 73 comments on the project, mostly representing a perspective that isn’t mentioned in this article. It will be a shame if this vocal (minority?) opposition convinces Safeway not to redevelop this ugly old store with something that provides a better pedestrian street scape, less surface parking, and maybe even two story, just like all the building that surround this anomaly of a one-story building on College Avenue. Go to the store, most of the surrounding buildings are 2-3 story’s, and none of them have a vast sea of parking and pavement in the front.

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