Oakland Safeway expansion continues to raise concerns for Berkeley officials, residents

The Berkeley City Council has no jurisdiction over the Safeway on College Avenue. However, its members decided Tuesday to send a letter to the city of Oakland — which does have control over the property — urging it to heed Berkeley’s concerns over a proposed expansion.

Council members, worried over the possible development of the Safeway at 6310 College Ave. — at the Berkeley-Oakland border — voted to take this action as objection from local residents, worried about traffic congestion and a loss of public parking, has mounted over the past months.

“I encourage the council to support the neighborhoods adjacent to the proposed Safeway at College and Claremont to push back on Oakland’s planning commission to the same extent and with the same fervor that Berkeley neighborhoods pushed back when a project is unfitting and damaging to its residents,” said Berkeley resident Jacquelyn McCormick. “Please, do not infer any accommodation to the mitigation in your communications with the city of Oakland until the project is redesigned to a more appropriate neighborhood size.”

Citing concerns about truck deliveries, parking, a projected increase in bicycle-automobile accidents and the potential loss of revenue from parking meters that would be removed, the letter City Manager Phil Kamlarz is sending to the city of Oakland asks that Oakland neither approve the project nor certify the Environmental Impact Report until the project is altered.

“This approach would decrease traffic congestion, reduce parking demand, and contribute positively to the already successful Rockridge shopping environment and community,” the city manager said in the draft letter. “A project of this significance in such a unique area must give more weight to the desires and concerns of the community, as well as the ability of the project to serve its own parking needs.”

The council also discussed the feasibility of taking legal action, should both Oakland and Safeway go ahead with the project without addressing any of Berkeley’s concerns.

“We have the negotiations with Safeway — if they renege or don’t work it out or Oakland doesn’t do what we think they should do, we always have the ability to sue,” said Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates at the meeting. “I don’t want to sue them.”

Kamlarz is also sending a second letter to Safeway that will invite store representatives to meet with the council to discuss the  ways Safeway could lessen the disputed impacts of the expansion.

“We’ll give our comments on the program to the city of Oakland, but in the meantime, we can still have conversations with Safeway,” said Berkeley spokesperson Mary Kay Clunies-Ross. “There are a lot of things we can do to mitigate the project, and that’s what we’re going to talk about with Safeway.”

Safeway maintains that the project will improve existing conditions with mitigations and is willing to negotiate with Berkeley, said Elisabeth Jewel, a consultant working on behalf of Safeway, at the meeting.

“All of this is going to be responded to in the EIR,” Jewel said at the meeting. “If you want to come to us with a specific list of mitigations, let’s do it.”