Like what you see above? Well, if you don’t, you better speak up soon because it’s looking more and more like that’s what we’re going to be stuck with.
Tonight, I went to the 5th community stakeholders meeting about the proposed College Safeway rebuilding. The meeting seemed promising at first, but by the end, I left worrying that the project might be scrapped entirely. In the words of Safeway’s rep, Todd Paradis, if Safeway cannot build a new building that is at least 50,000 square feet, all they can afford to do is a “patch and paint job.” I took the above picture on my way home from the meeting tonight and I think you can see that this building and lot clearly need more than just a coat of paint.
Safeway proposed a much grander design back in June, but it was immediately met with community opposition. If you want all the background and drama, check out the post I wrote back then. Safeway listened to the community and offered to set up a working group to get feedback from community members about the project. After four meetings (the notes of which you can read), Safeway’s architect David Blair came to the meeting tonight with some new sketches that they hoped would alleviate some concerns.
I have to say that I loved the sketches Blair shared. I thought the last design proposal was ok, but it wasn’t very architecturally interesting or innovative in anyway. The new proposal incorporates much more public space, which is something neighborhood activists have been pushing for. There would be two public plazas – one at the triangle corner of College and Claremont and one at 63rd and College. At these plazas would be lots of seating, trees, an art feature, and tons of bicycle parking. And in between the plazas would be small retail stores.
All of this would be great and very complimentary to the small shops across the street, but here’s the best part – to make this space larger and more pedestrian friendly, the street parking spots on College would be taken away and that 10ft space would become part of the sidewalk. I’m not sure I can explain how exciting this proposal is to me. One major reason traffic is so bad on College is because of parallel parking. Traffic is sometimes backed up for several blocks because one car is waiting for a parking spot. Get rid of street parking, and traffic moves a lot quicker. Also, pedestrians really need more space on College.
Well, not everyone in the audience agreed with me. To be fair, many of them vehemently disagreed with me. One person went on and on about how it’s disingenuous to even suggest this because they’re not allowed to do this because Safeway doesn’t own that land. (Well, obviously. But Oakland can agree to let them use the land this way.) Another woman said that this proposal robs the parking spaces and would endanger the survival of the businesses across the street. My favorite comment of the night might have been from the woman who suggested that instead of taking space fromt the parking lane, Safeway should give some of their property to the city and create another lane of traffic! Yes, another lane of traffic for ONE BLOCK – that would help traffic flow smoothly.
But the bulb outs were certainly not the most contentious topic of the night. Most everyone in the room who spoke was fixated on the size of the project and, somewhat understandably, upset that after 5 meetings Safeway was still not forthcoming on what the size of the project would ultimately be. Speaker after speaker argued that Safeway should not build lot to lot and that the neighborhood would not tolerate a store any bigger than the current store. A couple of us said that we thought expanding the store was a good idea, but we were greatly outnumbered. Most people in the room were convinced that a larger Safeway would destroy the neighborhood by creating traffic problems and by forcing the small businesses across the street to shut down.
The other argument of the night was that Safeway and its reps didn’t understand the neighborhood, and that’s why its proposals were so out of touch with the neighborhood’s needs. At times, it got overly personal. One woman said that the sketches we had been presented with showed that the architect didn’t understand the neighborhood, and “what this place is.” She said that they should work for a couple of weeks at La Farinne or Cole Coffee and then come back with ideas. Todd Paradis took some offense to this and said he didn’t hear anything from her statement that he could work with. She retorted that Paradis had insulted her and that she would wait for an apology. When none was forthcoming, she insisted that that be noted in the meeting minutes.
Later on, someone said that Todd just doesn’t get the neighborhood because he’s from Hayward! Really, I was feeling pretty bad for Todd at this point – he was getting attacked left and right and I think he’s been honestly working to try to satisfy the community.
So at the very end of the night, Todd got a chance to speak, and he seemed very down and disheartened. He clearly explained that a 25,000 foot store rebuild was not an option, as that investment wouldn’t make sense for any developer. He said he’d come back to the next meeting with a proposal for a store of 50,000 feet, with 150 parking spots, but that they couldn’t go any lower than that. He also said that if the community wanted it, Safeway would drop the retail stores – it’s easier for him to just throw them out of the project.
He didn’t sound happy about any of this. And I was feeling pretty down too at this point. The thought of losing this wonderful project because a vocal minority in our neighborhood will not budge on size is just absurd and depressing.
So there’s going to be at least one more community meeting with Safeway, on Tuesday, December 9th. If you want to save this project, I beg you to attend and speak out. Otherwise, we’ll be left with this:
UPDATE: I just heard from a Safeway consultant that the December 9th meeting has been canceled. I will post more information next week about how you can get involved, instead of attending the meeting.