Safeway expansion plans create tension among community members

The plans for the renovated building include a design that is two stories, with retail space on the bottom floor and a new Safeway located above.
Lowney Architecture/Courtesy
The plans for the renovated building include a design that is two stories, with retail space on the bottom floor and a new Safeway located above.

Plans to expand the Safeway on College Avenue have ignited both strong support and opposition, with a main concern being that the expansion could contribute to congestion in the area during peak hours.

The project for the store, which lies in Oakland just past the Berkeley-Oakland border, has been in negotiations for more than two years but may not be up for an official Oakland City Council recommendation until the spring of 2012, said Oakland City Councilmember Jane Brunner.

“I’ve gotten a strong reaction in the neighborhood from both sides,” Brunner said.

The Oakland Planning Commission hosted a public hearing Wednesday with a public comment period that will be open until August 15.

According to an economic benefit document for the project, anticipated benefits include 78 more Safeway positions, $400,000 in annual revenue to the city of Oakland and a better pedestrian experience through installing planters, bike racks and articulated store fronts.

Susan Houghton, Safeway director of public and government affairs, said in an email the project has garnered more than 1,000 supporters who signed a petition endorsing the expansion.

“We have worked collaboratively with local neighbors and groups on this project and believe the current design best represents all interests,” Houghton said in an email.

On the other hand, those who oppose the project are mainly concerned with the added size of the store, which will bring more vehicular traffic, Brunner said.

But Houghton said in the email that the city of Oakland has taken precautions to address such concerns.

“As with any construction project, the city ensures that traffic mitigation measures are in place as part of the approval for our project,” Houghton said in the email.

According to the draft of the environmental impact report for the project, the planned expansion will include increasing the existing 24,260-square-foot store to 51,510 square feet plus a 10,657-square-foot ground level commercial space along College Avenue by utilizing the vacant lot that was previously occupied by a Union 76 gas station.

The space is planned to be a restaurant with public roof access, according to the report.

The project also includes plans to tentatively include eight tenant retail spaces likely for small boutiques along College Avenue spanning up to 10,000 more square feet, said John Skrivanich, principal architect for Lowney Architecture, a designer for the project.

“I feel strongly that if this project gets built close to the way it is designed, I believe it will be great for the neighborhood,” Skrivanich said.

On the other side of Berkeley, the Safeway on Shattuck Avenue has only yet to begin construction after more than three years of discussion, according to Skrivanich.

Skrivanich said the plans for the College Avenue Safeway are much larger than the final plans for the Shattuck Avenue Safeway, and he expects the same if not more city and public discussion.

“The College and Claremont (Avenue) Safeway will be tougher — in the end, I hope the changes are minimal,” Skrivanich said.

According to Chris Jackson, the operations manager of the Rockridge District Assocation — a business improvement organization whose district covers the Safeway on College Avenue — the association has a neutral position towards the project but has voiced concerns in regards to traffic.

“When the project goes before City Council, we will have to see how it all pans out,” Jackson said.

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  • Anonn née moose

    They want to turn Rockridge into Emeryville with this design. It is simply too Big of an expansion and WILL create more traffic and parking hassles,not to mention small businesses being chocked out in the process. The priorities of the neighborhood residents are clear,MOST of them do not want this and the ones who do are too lazy to drive or even walk a mile down the road to the other”options” they have to shop for what they need grocery wise.
    If you go on common sense and not greed and lining pockets with this deal you will conclude that Safeway needs to remodel but not to the degree that it is wanting too. You upgrade the existing structure to make rom for more product and you eliminate the former gas station space and turn that into more parking for customers and employees of the area. It’s simple,it’s common sense,it’s the right thing to do. But hey what can you expect from Oakland city council members? They are about as useless as the tits on a boar hog and don’t seem to really care about real progress in this area. Like typical politicians all they are concerned with is lining their pockets.

  • Jim

    I just saw what they want to do. I say no, this isn’t Southern California, its Rockridge.  

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_WRACM77JT2RXUR3LMGDPPUGUYY Tony M

    I’m glad I moved far from Berkeley after graduation and never came back. I can’t imagine living in a city were narcissistic NIMBY types are more concerned with what retailer opens a new store than real problems such as crime or unemployment…

  • Todd Paradis

    For more information please visit http://www.safewayoncollege.com

  • Anonymous

    “According to an economic benefit document for the project, anticipated
    benefits include 78 more Safeway positions, $400,000 in annual revenue
    to the city of Oakland and a better pedestrian experience through
    installing planters, bike racks and articulated store fronts. ”
    Sales of groceries in a built up market like Rockridge is essentially a zero sum game. Higher  sales at a new Rockridge Safeway will mean lower sales, fewer positions and lower revenue for Oakland at other grocery retailers. College at  Claremont is   congested  at present; adding additional  traffic to Safeway will make it even more so, making less people want to come to Rockridge to shop at the variety of small independent retailers and dine at the independent restaurants on College avenue.

    • Anonymous

      “Higher  sales at a new Rockridge Safeway will mean lower sales, fewer positions and lower revenue for Oakland at other grocery retailers.”  

      Sounds similar to the broken window fallacy.  You ignore that money people save by shopping at Safeway will instead be spent at other local retailers of other kinds.

  • anonee

    I can understand the residents “outrage” as this will just disturb their whole – small box, local mom n pop utopia on that stretch. But like Max Allstadt says – its quite ridiculous that this is enough to garner a huge turnout and piss people off when there is so many bigger issues that don’t even get 1/4 of the turnout. 

    And if you want to talk about the safeway design – the thing is – why don’t they just leave that safeway alone or do minor renovations but continue with the major renovation at the one huge old safeway 1 mile down the road? That shopping complex can take the blunt of a huge expansion and the traffic. the one in rockridge on the other hand? the traffic is horrendous already.

  • Max Allstadt

    The planning commission meetings on this issue have drawn large crowds to City Hall. The turnout has been Rockridge residents, mostly well-to-do, mostly white, mostly from the Baby Boom generation. (According to the 2010 Census, Rockridge is the whitest neighborhood in Oakland (77%). It also has one of the highest household incomes in Oakland.)

    I spend a lot of time at city hall. A lot of these people, I’ve never seen there before.

    Oakland has a murder epidemic. Oakland has a child prostitution epidemic. Oakland has crumbling streets and a budget that’s on life support.

    So this is my message to Rockridge: It’s nice to see you getting involved at city hall.  But if your priority for civic engagement is bickering over the design of a supermarket, the supermarket is not your problem. Your priorities are the problem.