John Gatewood: Safeway at College @ Claremont – Opportunity to Enhance an Urban Village

12 Nov

This guest post was written by John Gatewood, one of the co-founders of ULTRA (Urbanists for a Livable Temescal Rockridge Area), which supports higher density mixed-use development along the major transit corridors of north Oakland. John works in the Graphic Arts Industry and is a resident of Temescal.

Safeway is in the planning stages of replacing the existing store and gas station at College & Claremont with a new store. (Their plans can be found on their website.)

On Wednesday evening, November 18, this project will be before the Planning Commission. No decisions will be made at this time, as it is an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) scoping session to solicit comments from the community as to what should be studied in the EIR for this project.

The latest version of Safeway’s proposal is an improvement upon the previous iterations they have shown the community but it could still be better. ULTRA, Urbanists for a Livable Temescal Rockridge Area, agrees that the existing store and gas station must be replaced. These two relics from the auto-centric 1960’s have no place in the small-scale urban village that Rockridge has become.

But one of the project alternatives studied MUST include a housing component. We think it is an excellent location for senior housing. This site has very good transit access and it is in an aging community. Rockridge is built-out. There are very few locations where there is even the possibility of building higher density housing. This site is one of those rare locations. This project is an opportunity to do some strategic planning for the future of the neighborhood. We are sure that now and in the future there will be more and more residents who will want to remain in the neighborhood but no longer want the burden of maintaining a single family house. Senior housing at this site would address this coming need. Furthermore Safeway has already partnered with a housing developer at the Mission Bay development in San Francisco. They now have the experience of building a new Safeway with a housing component and they need to bring that experience to this site.

In Safeway’s latest proposal they have small storefronts on the first floor along College Avenue and the Safeway store above. We think the Safeway should be on the first floor BEHIND the small storefronts. This has multiple benefits – It reduces the bulk of the building because the lot slopes up more than a full story in the rear, meaning that the supermarket would be partially below-grade, greatly reducing the visual impact of the store. The storefronts lining College would echo the existing land use, that is, small storefronts close together creating a lively and dense retail experience. These storefronts need maximum flexibility as to their eventual use. Ideally they would be filled with independent businesses and that should remain the goal for these stores. But just because a project has ground floor retail doesn’t mean that there are businesses that can be successful in these spaces. A row of empty storefronts does nothing to help the community.

ULTRA Safeway Proposal 1st Floor

Putting Safeway behind the storefronts will make these spaces much more flexible. As part of the Conditional Use Permit (CUP) and on an interim basis only, each of these spaces could be used as retail spaces for Safeway’s various departments. Having their various specialty departments with their own entrances on College Avenue could serve as an inducement for customers to enter the main Safeway store. As part of the CUP and on an interim basis only, these storefronts could also be permitted to be used by neighborhood-serving community groups. Having the Safeway store on the first floor would also have the additional benefit of freeing up the second and possible third floor for housing. Housing would not encompass the entire roof space but only the periphery along the avenues, echoing the existing land use pattern along College Avenue. The larger portion of the rooftop could be a parking deck for the store.

ULTRA Safeway Proposal 2nd Floor

Instead of a garage entrance on College Avenue like in Safeway’s proposal, we think there should be a public plaza. The entrance to the first floor Safeway would be at the back of this plaza. What is missing and needed at this end of College Avenue is a civic space, a place for people to gather. This would address that need. We envision this space evolving into a place where small public events such as arts & crafts fairs could be held. This would be to the community’s benefit and it would redound to Safeway’s benefit too because the more attractive the public space outside the store, the more likely it is people will enter the store.

Please join ULTRA and others at the Planning Commission meeting next Wednesday to share your thoughts about the Safeway EIR scoping issues:

Planning Commission Meeting
Wednesday, November 18th at 6:00 pm
Oakland City Hall
1 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Hearing Room 1

You can also submit comments and/or questions in writing to:
Pete Vollman, Planner III,
City of Oakland, Community & Economic Development Agency
250 Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Suite 2114
Reference Case Number ER09-0006 in all communication.
Comments must be received no later than 4PM on December 1, 2009.

Previous posts on College & Claremont Safeway:


12 Responses to “John Gatewood: Safeway at College @ Claremont – Opportunity to Enhance an Urban Village”

  1. Robert November 12, 2009 at 5:43 pm #

    I thought that they had done their EIR scoping a while back?

    Although you talk about it, I don’t see any housing in the concept drawings?

  2. G November 12, 2009 at 6:17 pm #

    This is bull hockey.

    If you were rebuilding your house, would you listen to someone telling you that you have to build another house on it?

    If Ultra wants more housing, I suggest they team up with low income housing developers, raise money, purchase land, and build.

    Don’t tell other developers what to do with their land.

    As for Safeway, the newest plan is much more acceptable than the first.

    • Eric November 13, 2009 at 6:11 pm #

      While I agree that the newest plan is better than the initial proposal, crowing “don’t tell developers what to do with their land” is a libertarian canard that doesn’t square with zoning law or the needs of neighborhoods and their citizens.

      Though not without its problems, telling people what to do with their land has been a pretty good practice so far, and is what keeps Toxy McLeadSmelter from moving in next door. There may yet be a good reason that housing would be an inappropriate plan for this site or for Safeway, but that solipsistic mantra does nothing to inform the discussion.

  3. david vartanoff November 14, 2009 at 6:45 pm #

    The ULTRA plan has some good points but misses the critical need for better transit throughput. Safeway’s CUP needs to include a new NB transit only lane pushing back the building 12′ to the East. AC Transit’s recent study of the 51 Route cited the Alcatraz-Claremont segment of College Avenue as a major delay point–this is our opportunity to fix this area for decades to come. Ideally this would be accompanied by changing west side of the street parking to parallel. I wholeheartedly agree that housing should be part of the project though I see no advantage in designating it for seniors–the location is also ideal for commuting to UC or jobs accessible by BART and AC.

    • Becks November 15, 2009 at 10:45 am #

      Unfortunately all of the diagonal parking on that part of College is in Berkeley – once you cross the border into Oakland, it’s all parallel parking. It would be great if Berkeley got rid of the diagonal parking, but that’s for them to decide.

  4. Navigator November 15, 2009 at 8:33 am #

    Looking at the initial drawings, I’m struck by the fact that the first floor ground space juts out all the way to the corner of College and Claremont. There needs to be a set back and a small open plaza near that corner. You can not bring that wall of storefronts at a sharp angle like that all the way to the intersection. You’d create an ugly wall and visual separation between what should be an open feeling at that large intersection. We need a plaza there to maintain the open feel and 360* view at that intersection. Let’s chop off that corner triangle.

    • Robert November 15, 2009 at 9:31 am #

      The building at San Pablo and Broadway comes to a very similar sharp point without creating that ugly wall you seem to be afraid of. It all depends on the detailing, and done properly can be an architecturally interesting feature.

  5. Navigator November 15, 2009 at 9:43 am #


    You’re probably referring to the 15th & Telegraph intersection where the Cathedral Building stands. San Pablo does not intersect with Broadway. That’s not quite the same situation since there’s a good sized plaza directly in front of the building.

    The College Avenue situation is a little different since the opposite end of Claremont where the “Diner” currently stands already comes to a jaunting point at that intersection. That corner is rather interesting and charming since the other side of Claremont is now basically open space thereby creating an open feeling at the that intersection with a view of the hills looking up Claremont Avenue. If we wall off the other side of Claremont all the way to the intersection it will create an ugly wall with no open space and no view of the hills. Let’s cut that corner off and create an interesting public space. The building doesn’t have to come all the way out to that pointed intersection.

    • Robert November 15, 2009 at 10:07 am #

      I was referring to San Pablo and Broadway. San Pablo used to connect to Broadway, and certainly did when the building was built. It has just been closed to traffic for some years. My point was that just because the building comes to a point does not necessarily lead to an ugly wall.

      The view up Claremont to the hills would be essentially unchanged whether you shave off 20 feet from the corner or not. Cutting the corner off would give a slight additional view of the hills from a small section of College just north of Claremont. The Safeway proposal actually proposes a 1 story building at the corner with a deck on top, that would provide both visual interest and a some view of the hills.

  6. Navigator November 15, 2009 at 11:46 am #

    Yes, the Flatiron Building at 14th & Broadway. I agree, both the Flatiron and the Cathedral building further up Broadway give Broawdway some charm and flair.

    We can still have the Safeway building come to a rounded tip for interesting architectural detail but with a bigger setback to allow for some public oriented open space at that prominent intersection. Perhaps even a fountain like we see in downtown Sausalito. We don’t need to go all the way to the sidewalk at College and Claremont.

  7. david vartanoff November 15, 2009 at 12:01 pm #

    about the corner and more… In my dreams, I would have Safeway buy out the house just left of diagram unit 7. This is where the misalignment between Oakland and Berkeley versions of College avenue collides. My view is to widen the street completely between Alcatraz and Claremont. The full blown idea ia a “queue jump” traffic signal SB at Alcatraz, and the easterly NB lane tranist only with a similar light NB at Alcatraz. and at Claremont.
    In this arrangement the Safeway structure would be pushed East and North to make the extra lane. I would certainly favor cutting off the corner of the building. Far MORE important, though, is providing OFF street parking for deliveries to the “small shops”. Assuming they survive as opposed to becoming Safeway they will need merchandise delivery on a regular basis. Having UPS or whoever illegally parked on College in the transit lane mist not happen. Lest anyone think that ticketing alone will cure same, consider that UPS spends (I have read) $690k /year on double parking tickets in SF rather than have drivers park in commercial spaces reserved for deliveries or walk a greater distance to the consignee.

  8. David December 11, 2009 at 12:20 am #


    You are factually wrong about Mission Bay. The housing project was a tax-credit enhanced project built by Mercy Housing with direct subsidies from the SF Redevelopment Agency. The project includes units for low and very-low income residents. Safeway rents a condominium at the other end of the block about 100 yards away, and had nothing to do with the Mercy Housing project.

    Additionally, your proposal has no form or density and therfore can’t be studied by an EIR. How will the sound engineer forcast noise levels for a vapor project? This was the wrong time to roll out your proposal. You should have done it much earlier.

    Finally, and importantly, the C-31 and the General Plan allow second floor housing, but they do not require it. Safeway cannot legally (by statute) be instructed to build anything that is not mandated in the GP or zoning. The difference is significant.

    Additionally, RCPC has opposed every housing project on College Ave since their founding. The Chairperson of RCPC signed onto your proposal for the purpose of muddying up the planning process. You have been punked.

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