Safeway on College might be stuck with a “patch & paint” job

12 Nov


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.

10 Responses to “Safeway on College might be stuck with a “patch & paint” job”

  1. We Fight Blight November 12, 2008 at 11:49 pm #


    I attended the meeting as well and was disappointed in the lack of vision from the neighbors. This is a great opportunity to redefine this corner and establish a signature building with a public plaza and outdoor dining. As with many projects in North Oakland and Berkeley, there appears to be a highly vocal minority that claims to represent “the Community” in its opposition to the project. This tactic is used time and time again to try leverage projects for concessions, kill projects, or get then severely down-scoped.

    After the meeting I encouraged Mr. Paradis to define their economic needs, develop a vision for a building that meets their needs, and then address the major issues raised by the stakeholders, but by no means feel compelled to design the site by committee which will only lead to failure. I also told him he should make sure that the facade facing the corner of Claremont and College (site of the Union 76 Gas Station) be at least three or four stories to frame and define the intersection. I think he erred in his strategy by saying his bottom line is 50,000 square feet and suggesting he would eliminate the 15,000 square feet of retail on College to achieve that. I requested that he bring both the 50,000 square feet and the 65,000 square feet concepts with retail as options for the community to see in the next meeting. This would give everyone a better understanding as to what giving up the retail really means for the street-scape.

    While there were many “absurd” comments that I took issue with at the meeting, the one that is most disturbing is the notion that the structure should be one story because anything taller or bigger is out of scale with the character of Rockridge. There could be nothing further from the truth. Across the street on College and Claremont are a range of buildings from one story to four stories, with the majority being between two and three stories. This is consistent throughout all of Rockridge’s commercial corridor. In my opinion what looks out of scale are the one story structures adjacent to two-four story buildings. They seem to cry out for housing on a second and third floor. Most of the commercial structures, with few exceptions, have developed from lot line to lot line. As well, many of the residential structures on major thoroughfares (College, Claremont, Alcatraz, Broadway) are also two or more stories. What the developer and his consultants need to do via slides/photos or other graphic images is to remind the community what the existing scale really is in Rockridge and how their proposed building envelop is consistent with that scale/lot coverage.

    I do agree with the sense of frustration of not knowing scale, building height, lot coverage and site access. All of these affect the type, design, and furnishings for the streetscape

  2. Alan November 13, 2008 at 8:57 am #

    What sort of veto power does the community have here? Even if they don’t want it, what are their chances of killing the project? I live in Bushrod and I’d really like this project to go through. If it gets to a vote by surrounding neighborhoods it will probably get majority support, don’t you think?

  3. Becks November 13, 2008 at 9:06 am #

    Alan – the community doesn’t really have any veto power, but it does seem like Safeway may be willing to cave to this vocal minority after months of trying to reach some reasonable compromise. I encourage you to contact Safeway and let them know you like the expanded project or to show up at the meeting on December 9th. We need more neighborhood members voicing their support for expansion – otherwise, Safeway might drop the project.

    Anyone can contact Safeway here:

  4. V Smoothe November 13, 2008 at 9:25 am #

    I cannot thing of a single thing that would do more to benefit that part of College than eliminating the street parking. I really hope that Safeway realizes that the people who actually approve the project are rational.

  5. david vartanoff November 13, 2008 at 9:32 am #

    Safeway is reported in national media as testing small well focused stores thus the mega project is not the only option. My view is that Oakland has an opportunity to demand a much smarter project.
    1. Push the sidewalk East for the extra lane between Claremont and Alcatraz but designate it transit only.
    2. Push the building frontage back 15′ further to give a good sidewalk space connecting the triangle and the proposed middle plaza.
    3. Most important, covenant the entire project–ALL employees, proprietors agree NOT to commute by auto–AC Passes and large BART Tickets as job perks. (maintain @ Safeway’s expense a half dozen or less Zip car or equal for the occasional emergency call from the kid at school who is sick).
    4 A third level–apartments its a fair walk to BART a quick bus to Cal, and again in the lease NO CAR but landlord buys transit tix.

  6. VivekB November 13, 2008 at 9:37 am #

    I live very close to that Safeway, and am in favor of the redesign. It’s smooth & clean, and a vast improvement over what’s there (as it’s bigger, which can only help).

    That said, most of my (vocal) neighbors seem to be of the lunatic fringe, who think that Safeway is in the charity/bend-over-and-take-it business.

  7. V Smoothe November 13, 2008 at 11:41 am #

    David, the City does not have any legal authority to impose such requirements on a business.

  8. dto510 November 13, 2008 at 12:30 pm #

    Thanks for the link, Becks, I sent Safeway a note of encouragement.

  9. jon November 15, 2008 at 12:24 pm #

    Yesterday Safeway just opened another urban store this time in Portland’s Pearl District which built off the success of another urban store they built a few years ago in the heart of Downtown Portland. And of course they have the new urban South of Market store in SF. I am very impressed with Safeway and their willingness to build urban designed stores in urban environments. This really seems like a great project that would do miracles to its neighborhood. It would be terrible to see them give up in the face of some vocal nutjob opposition worried about preserving surface parking and a 60s eyesore. The NIMBYism in this area is extremely odd, afterall it was pretty much this same small crowd that strongly opposed BRT on Telegraph because it would take away auto lanes.

  10. Michael Moore December 5, 2009 at 9:20 am #

    People who are opposed to this are opposed to any type of redevelopment. Their type of thinking is like a chronic disease that only gets worse with age.
    I wish a lot of them would infact, die off !
    I would hope that more people who are supportive would speak out. I am sure that the majority of home owners in this area who be in favor of this development. REMEMBER – Safeway was born in Oakland and has along legacy with Oakland. They will not desecrate their past.

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