So I was planning to write about the Public Works Committee hearing on the Oakland Airport Connector today, but that’s going to have to wait until tomorrow because I’m fired up after last night’s Safeway EIR Scoping Session at the Planning Commission.
During the public comment section, I was sure I had entered an alternate universe where ULTRA, STAND and RCPC agree on almost everything. If it had been April 1st, I would have suspected it was an April Fools joke. Seriously, can anyone point out to any project ever that all of those groups have agreed on? Probably not. (For those not in the know, STAND and RCPC oppose most dense developments in North Oakland and ULTRA embraces urban density.)
Of course, the groups didn’t all say exactly the same things. RCPC members, for example, had to take the opportunity to take jabs at the College Safeway project, but overall, the groups and their members expressed a similar vision. Here are some of the ideas and concerns that were brought up:
- Pedestrian/bike/transit access & safety: This was the number one theme of the night. Everyone agreed that the current layout and Safeway’s current plans are unappealing and dangerous for pedestrians and bicyclists. As for transit, Larry Meyers from ULTRA pointed out that the 51 bus stop on Broadway is 1/4 mile from the Safeway! To make this space more friendly for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit riders, people suggested moving Safeway to the corner of Broadway and Pleasant Valley, moving most stores up to Pleasant Valley, hiding parking behind the stores, using parking structures instead of a surface lot, adding bike parking, mandating free transit passes for employees, having a free shuttle from BART, and extending streets and sidewalks so they go through the plaza.
- Creating a connection between neighborhoods: Many speakers agreed that this plaza was partially responsible for a disconnect between Temescal, Piedmont, and Rockridge. Tom Dolan from ULTRA recommended extending the street network through the plaza, much like in Eric’s fantasy plans, to make the plaza feel like it was a part of these neighborhoods. He also recommended creating a civic space within the plaza, which he argued would bring more customers to Safeway. Others focused on architecture, expressing concerns that the current plan does not fit in with the architecture of any of the surrounding communities and explaining that Safeway has many relevant architectural styles to choose from.
- Housing: I’m sure the commissioners expected ULTRA to call for housing to be added to this project, but having STAND and RCPC call for housing was very powerful. Everyone agreed that this is one of the best places for dense, urban housing and retail in all of North Oakland. Several speakers made connections between housing and the environment, arguing that people living in this new housing would walk to the retail below and therefore would not be contributing as much to greenhouse gas expansion. Others brought up the Conley Report, and how it recommends housing in this plaza.
- Traffic flow: Several speakers were concerned about traffic flow, particularly around the Pleasant Valley and Broadway intersection. Ronnie Spitzer from RCPC said her son was hit by a car a couple months at that intersection and was concerned the increased traffic this project would bring would make it even more dangerous and congested. Stuart Flashman from RCPC recommended studying charging for parking, to discourage driving. A STAND member recommended studying parking usage at different times of day on different days of the week and also suggested “smart parking” – having an electronic sign that shows how many spaces available so cars don’t just drive around and around.
- More community discussion needed: It seemed that nobody besides Safeway was happy with how their open houses went a few weeks ago. Speakers called for further meetings with the community to solicit input on the project. One speaker specifically called for Safeway to meet with residents of the senior housing complex across the street.
When the public comment ended, the commissioners spoke, first commending the speakers for sticking to talking about what the EIR should cover and not just complaining about the project. They all seemed extremely impressed by the community’s presentation and I wondered how it must have felt for them to have all of these groups who disagree on every development project finally come together on something. Annie Mudge said, “It’s remarkable that STAND and ULTRA agree on anything.”
The commissioners agreed with public sentiment about pedestrian, bike, and transit access, housing, tying the plaza to the community, and the need to create a more urban project. Several of them brought up SB 375 and the General Plan, and suggested that Safeway’s current plan might not comply with either of them. Oh, and practically all of them said that this Safeway is their primary supermarket and that they shop in this plaza often.
Sandra Galvez said that Safeway should keep in mind that this project will be here in 20-30 years, “not 20 years ago.” She thought the EIR should be very inclusive and broad because the project would “probably be drastically altered.”
Madeleine Zayas-Mart agreed that alternatives should “think big” and specifically recommended looking more closely at the Conley report. She argued that Safeway should make this more pedestrian friendly, which would attract more customers. She said she curently shops on College because it’s more pleasant to walk down, but that she would shop in this plaza more if it was more attractive to pedestrians.
Blake Hunstman said that this is a “jewel of a site” and an opportunity for mixed use alternatives. He didn’t understand the orientation of the site in Safeway’s current plans and thinks that they missed the opportunity to make Safeway and the other stores part of the community by bringing them to the street.
All of the above commissioners had strong concerns about the project but they all were a bit reserved in their comments. All of them until Michael Colbruno spoke, that is. He immediately said the current proposal feels like a “big mall” and that this is an opportunity for Safeway to “do the right thing.” He said he didn’t want to see Joyce Roy walk 1/4 mile for a quart of milk (in her comments she had said she has to walk through a sea of cars just for milk) and that he currently sees pedestrians walking in fear with their groceries. Colbruno argued that the pedestrian, bicyclist, transit user component should be key to Safeway’s project.
Colbruno continued, explaining that this development should look like Oakland (the crowd clapped), as Whole Foods has managed to do. He then said that the storefronts should face the streets directly (more clapping). Colbruno said that Safeway’s current plans were not a good corporate decision and that the project as is would fail for the corporation and the community.
As a model for what could be done with this development, Colbruno brought up the Target development in West Hollywood, which includes housing. He said this development produces a significant amount of West Hollywood’s sales tax (though that’s really not saying much since West Hollywood is tiny). He ended by saying that locally grown produce is very important to him, especially after seeing Food, Inc. and that he wondered if the EIR could study the effects of bringing produce from afar rather than from local sources. I care a lot about locally grown produce and buy nearly all my produce at the farmers market, but this request seemed a bit absurd.
After last night’s hearing, I imagine that Safeway and its representatives understand what the community and the Planning Commission wants to see, which is nothing short of scrapping the project and starting over. It was inspiring to see so many disparate groups come together for something more important, and it seemed to have worked. Now we’ll just have to wait and see what the EIR shows and what new plans Safeway comes back with.
Previous posts on this project:
- 7/15/09: A Better Oakland – New Broadway Safeway EIR Scoping Session tonight
- 7/14/09: John Gatewood: Former opponents united in opposition to Safeway plan for Rockridge Center
- 7/1/09: What do we want for the Pleasant Valley Safeway project?
- 6/30/09: Transbay Blog – More Pleasant on Pleasant Valley
- 6/23/09: Pleasant Valley Safeway & Longs community meetings