Rockridge neighbors turn out in force to debate Safeway expansion project

on July 21, 2011

Supporters and opponents of a proposed Rockridge Safeway expansion project crammed two hearing rooms at Oakland City Hall for a planning commission meeting on Wednesday evening. The meeting ultimately had to be moved to the bigger city council chambers to accommodate the members of the public who came to comment on the issue.

The Safeway redevelopment project would replace the current 25,000 square-foot store located at the corner of College Avenue and Claremont Avenue with a 62,000 square-foot building that would contain a double-size store and a number of independent retail spaces. A new partially underground garage would also be attached to the building, providing 171 parking spaces for customers.

After a number of public hearings that have been held since the project was first proposed in October 2009, Lowney Architecture, the designer of the new store, released a draft Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project on July 1. According to the summary of the report, the project “would not result in a fundamental conflict between adjacent and nearby land uses” and their research did not “reveal any significant adverse cumulative impacts in the area.”

“We saw a great opportunity for sustainable development at this site,” said Graham Hill, a staff architect with Lowney Architecture.

“We’re focusing on a pedestrian-oriented shopping district with public transit accessibility and bicycle connections, ” he continued. “The project ultimately increases the density for sustainable growth in the city.”

However, the draft EIR was far from satisfactory to many attendants of the Wednesday meeting, most of whom wore tags that summed up their opinions of the new project: “It’s too big.” The report, they said, overlooks the significant impact of the project would have on the Rockridge neighborhood.

“The central issue in the evaluation of the project is how it relates to the existing area,” said Zackary Walton, who lives near the Safeway store. Walton said expanding the grocery store doesn’t comply with the city’s zoning plans, which characterize the Rockridge neighborhood as an area for small-scale neighborhood retail shops instead of big box chains.  “The supporters claim the project meets this objective—this logic is tortured at best,” he said.

Opponents also believe that it’s a bad idea to increase the size of the store, which would cause additional traffic problems for the already congested area and affect independent small retail businesses. “We don’t need ‘revitalization,’” one speaker told the committee. “Rockridge is already a vital neighborhood.”

But supporters of the expansion believe that a bigger store, along with new retail spaces included in the report, would increase foot traffic to the area and thus benefit other local businesses. “If Safeway’s $10 sheet cake is a threat to La Farine’s fancy cakes, and maybe they need to look at their recipe,” said Jeff Small, a supporter of the project, who spoke before the committee. Small added that he hopes Safeway keeps its promise of keeping the retail spaces affiliated with the new building independent and local.

Although met by mixed reactions, the expansion of the College Avenue store is expected to generate millions of sales tax revenues for the city, Paul Young, a representative of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, told the committee. “In an economically difficult time, the project is going to bring construction jobs and increase the assessed property values of the building,” Young added.

The project is not Safeway’s only expansion plan in this area. The Pleasanton-based grocery chain is also planning to upsize its store in the Temescal area at the corner of Broadway and Pleasant Valley, approximately one mile away from the College Avenue Safeway. The controversial project has drawn similar concerns about the traffic issues as well as its design, which opponents say would wall the site off from the surrounding community. Another controversy raised by the Temescal project is that is necessitates the shut-down of the neighboring CVS mega-drugstore, colloquially known as the former “Super Longs,” which would likely greet its last group of customers in December.

Due to the large number of speakers who wished to comment on the Rockridge Safeway expansion, the planning commission on Wednesday only had time to hear from some of them. The hearing will continue during the next meeting on August 3. For more information, the public can contact the case planner Peterson Z. Vollmann at 510-238-6167 or by email: pvollman@oaklandnet.com.

This story has been amended to make two corrections: The firm that designed the new Safeway store is Lowney Architecture, not Lowney Architects, and comments attributed to principal architect John Skrivanich were instead made by staff architect Graham Hill.

 

10 Comments

  1. RR on July 21, 2011 at 4:31 pm

    I welcome the 51st street project. They legally kicked CVS out too long ago to fight it now. It’s surrounded by large streets that can accommodate the traffic. I just hope that the retail spaces are filled with what they are destroying by kicking out the Super Longs. I am going to miss that place! Hardware/Garden/Arts n Crafts/Fabric Store/Pharmacy/Cooking and Kitchen/Car/Bath n Beauty/Watch Repair/and Top Dog!!!



  2. RR on July 21, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    ps – I don’t know about the Rockridge idea. That intersection is already a serious mess. Maybe some pedestrian bridges…?



    • Cynthia Gorney on July 21, 2011 at 5:00 pm

      two different things…the safeway under reconsideration is, as you note, in a different part of n oakland, where the traffic and local biz implications are very different.



  3. Amy Jeffries on July 21, 2011 at 5:08 pm

    Safeway is placing a big bet on its College Avenue and Broadway store upgrades. The customers Piedmont Patch has heard from appear to be mixed on the idea: http://patch.com/A-kwjs



  4. Annette Floystrup on July 21, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Safeway supporters are absolutely correct about one thing: Oakland needs more grocery stores.

    According to the City of Oakland commissioned and accepted Conley Report, “Oakland Retail Enhancement Strategy” dated June 2008,”Grocery Store leakage could support five new full sized supermarkets, or more specialty food stores. Residents in West and East Oakland are the most severely under-served by grocery stores.”

    Rockridge is the best served community in Oakland for grocery with two Safeway stores, Trader Joe’s, Andonico’s, Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl, Village Market and Star Market, all within a 1.33 mile radius.

    In addition, Rockridge already has a new, larger Safeway, on Claremont Avenue. It is located between the Hwy 24 off and on ramps as befitted a Safeway designed to be a regional draw. Unfortunately, criminals found the easy access to and from the freeway very convenient too, and the store was abandoned by Safeway within a year due to “leakage” from theft. It has now been an underused blight on the neighborhood for over 30 years. The ugly, severed stump of the Safeway sign serves as a daily reminder to the community of the duration of Safeway’s “commitment.”

    Safeway miscalculated, and the neighborhood paid the price. The Claremont Avenue location is a prime location for high density housing and is instead blighted and useless in the urban fabric. It is currently a dialysis clinic, which should properly occupy a fractional piece of that vast property.

    Additionally, the Rockridge neighborhood is one of the few bright retail spots in Oakland’s otherwise bleak retail picture. Rockridge is consistently one of the 3 top neighborhood revenue producers in Oakland. Oakland has benefited for decades from the citizen driven zoning – zoning that has been adopted to great success by Piedmont Avenue, also in the top 3 along with Chinatown.

    Another Safeway miscalculation regarding the benefit (to them) of a big box store in Rockridge on College Avenue, could derail Oakland’s brightest neighborhood. The New York Times, Sunset, the American Institute of Planners and too many others to mention have made it a tourist destination that gives Oakland good press in the face of volumes of negative national press. To put that at risk of blight from another Safeway miscalculation is economic insanity.

    And Safeway? Well, they have a history of cut and run and creating blight, especially in urban neighborhoods around the Bay Area and the nation. This includes their abandoned stores which sat for decades and finally became the highly successful Shattuck Avenue Berkeley Bowl and the Grocery Outlet on Broadway.

    It’s interesting to note that what a $9 billion corporation couldn’t do at those locations, two local family owned businesses could – make a success of it.



    • Ace Berkeley on July 21, 2011 at 6:05 pm

      I agree with you, Annette.

      In or immediately adjacent to Berkeley, there are THREE Safeways; the Rockridge one under discussion here located immediately past the Berkeley-Oakland border, the Shattuck and Rose one in Berkeley’s Gourmet Gulch, and the Solano Ave one in Albany just past the Berkeley-Albany border. There are NO Safeway stores near Downtown Berkeley, and it seems that the Berkeley Way Trader Joes has effectively made any nearby Safeway store superfluous here.

      I strongly think that the Safeway developers should THROW AWAY their plans to expand the Rockridge Safeway from its present size. At the same time, if the developers and Safeway advocates are really so dead-set on expansion, I think that they should more heavily focus upon EXPANDING both the Broadway/Pleasant Valley Safeway (like they are already doing), +AND+ Berkeley’s Shattuck and Rose Safeway!!

      This makes sense as something that will best serve their respective North Oakland and Berkeley costumers and residential/vendor communities.



  5. Neils on July 22, 2011 at 7:38 am

    Rockridge is so greedy and selfish, that difficult to know what to think.



    • Annette Rahbek Floystrup on July 22, 2011 at 6:33 pm

      Corporate greed does NOT equal community need.

      Safeway isn’t even among those grocery chains that have pledged to open or expand a combined 1,500 stores in communities that have limited access to nutritious food and are designated as “food deserts.” Oakland has several such “food deserts”, notably East and West Oakland where access to groceries and fresh foods is severely limited.

      I want to praise Brown’s Super Stores, Calhoun Enterprises, Klein’s Family Markets, SUPERVALU, Walgreens and Walmart – yes even WalMart – for making this commitment to America’s poor.

      I do notice that Safeway, the fifth largest grocery retailer after Wal-Mart, Kroger, Costco and SuperValu is glaringly absent from this commitment to America.

      In today’s SF Chronicle, CEO and Chairman Steve Burd said Safeway customers tend to “skew higher-income” – and I guess in Safeway speak that means screw lower income customers – hence the continued push to expand in already well served areas like Rockridge.

      Shame on them.



  6. Jo on July 24, 2011 at 8:09 pm

    Annette, everything you say does not make any sense. You’re basically saying Safeway shouldn’t open in Rockridge for your personal reasons, not because they won’t make money.

    Also, if you want grocers to open in food deserts, why don’t you personally do so yourself? Then you can understand why grocers don’t want to open in ghettos



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