Tag Archives: Rockridge

Safeway on College: Round 2 at the Planning Commission

3 Aug

I know I promised a long breakdown of the Safeway draft environmental impact report (DEIR) in my last post, but after reading the DEIR again and thinking about it some more, I realized I’d need more than one post to cover anything substantive. So this first post will cover a couple of the issues that were discussed at public comment at the July hearing and mitigations the DEIR offers to many of these issues. I’ll write a second post discussing project alternatives after tonight’s continuation of the DEIR hearing (at the last hearing, the Planning Commission ran out of time and continued the hearing).

The hearing a couple of weeks ago was quite interesting. There were so many people there that the hearing had to be moved from Hearing Room 1 to Council Chambers! When I arrived, I surveyed the room and feared that as at so many past Safeway meetings and hearings, the room was dominated by opponents. As the night went on though, the comments seemed to be fairly evenly split by opponents and proponents. Even with such a mix of project perspectives in the room, people were generally very civil and respectful throughout the comments. It was quite refreshing, especially thinking back to the first community meeting on this project that I attended back in 2008, when I was one of the few people who expressed any kind of support for the project and I got heckled while speaking! Continue reading

Advertisements

Safeway on College finally at Planning Commission tonight

20 Jul

UPDATE: Though some public comment was made on the Safeway DEIR at the 7/20 Planning Commission meeting, the item was continued until Wednesday, August 3rd. At that meeting, public comment will continue and the planning commissioners will provide their feedback on the DEIR.

After years of community meetings and plenty of delay, the College Avenue Safeway is finally going to the Planning Commission tonight (Wednesday, July 20th) for a hearing on its draft environmental impact report (DEIR). I had hoped to write a post about this last week well in advance of the hearing, but I got busy and then spent a long time reading the DEIR. So the long substantive post will have to come post-hearing, but I wanted to at least alert folks that the hearing is happening.

To refresh your memory, since it’s been more than a year and a half since I’ve blogged about this project, the proposal is to replace the hideous Safeway on College and Claremont that is surrounded by a sea of parking and a gas station. You know, this place: Continue reading

The perfect evening at Citron

10 Mar

I’m embarrassed that it’s been an absurdly long time since I’ve done a restaurant review here (since August!). I’ve been enjoying many new and old restaurants in Oakland, but I guess I haven’t been inspired enough to write about them. That, and City Homestead does such an excellent job keeping up with new restaurants that sometimes I feel like I’m off the hook.

That changed on Monday night, when I had easily the best meal I’ve eaten all year.

Though me and my fiance live only a long walk away from Citron in Rockridge, we had never managed to eat there. We often go next door to A Cote, but Citron never managed to lure us in. On Monday night though, we wanted to stay close to home and have a relaxing night out, but so many of our favorite spots are closed on Mondays. So we finally made it to Citron.

Everything about our dinner was perfect. The ambiance of the small restaurant was just what we were looking for – elegant, but still cozy and comfortable. The service was excellent – our waiter checked on us just enough and knew plenty about the menu but was never overbearing. And my only complaint about the food is that we ordered too much (note to self: never go with the full three course tasting menu again).

Here’s what we ate. Please excuse the graininess of my iPhone photos and know that the food looked much better than this in person.

The squash ginger soup was exactly what I needed on this cold, windy night.

Oh seafood - why must you call to me whenever my fiance (or anyone else) orders you? This plate was tempting but I managed to just appreciate by looking (or maybe staring).

This picture doesn't come close to doing the dish justice. These sweet potato gnocchi with mushrooms and walnut were tender, slightly sweet, and covered with a light, savory sauce. The portion was giant though - easily big enough for two.

Though I didn't taste the salmon, the rest of this dish was delicious. I never would have thought to combine beets with brussel sprouts, but the combination was delicious.

The chocolate cake was super cute but a bit too rich for our tastes.

The pear tart might not have looked as pretty, but it was incredible. The crust in particular was flaky, buttery, and complemented the pear and vanilla ice cream perfectly.

Though we’ve waited so many years to check it out, I’m sure we’ll be back to Citron soon, although not too often because it is a bit too pricey to make it into our regular rotation. If you’ve never been, I highly recommend it, particularly for a romantic dinner or special occasion.

Safeway submits application, but “concerned neighbors” are not so happy about it

7 May

I had hoped to have a post up about the Oakland Airport Connector this morning, but I spent too long reading TransForm’s brand new report on the subject and didn’t have any time to write. Check back tomorrow though because I’ll have a lengthy post up about it.

For now though, a brief update on Safeway. Today, their consultant, Elisabeth Jewel, sent out a brief update about the College Avenue store:

Yesterday, Safeway submitted its development application to the City of Oakland.  The application reflects two years of work by the Safeway team along with countless citizens who offered their ideas and opinions.  The current proposed development designed by architect Ken Lowney is vastly different from where we started two years ago.  After 20 hours of community meetings, hundreds of emails and many phone calls, the design evolved in large measure due to community input.  While some people don’t feel comfortable with the proposed size, others appreciate that what we are proposing delivers unique retail and public spaces and revitalizes the current intersection to one of activity and excitement.

The city’s process from here is long and multi-faceted.  There will be noise studies, traffic studies, environmental review, and zoning conformance checks.  There will be many meetings between city departments such as traffic, engineering, planning, and zoning.  After these issues have been studied to the satisfaction of the Planning Department, the Planning Commission will call for public hearings.

I’m so glad to hear that they’ve finally submitted their application, and I’m mostly pleased with their plan.

But not everyone is so pleased. A friend forwarded me a link to the Concerned Neighbors of College Avenue Safeway blog, where the writers and readers are, uh, not so happy.

Their most recent post asks for comments on the new plan. I highly recommend heading over there to check them out and add your comments, but here are some of the highlights:

  • I choose to live in Rockridge, not Walnut Creek.
  • Since we’re neighbors, let’s be friends? Remember that jingle. Well, it apparently it is only true if you see eye-to-eye with Safeway.
  • Bike racks can’t mitigate traffic (and air & noise pollution) for a massive grocery store and up to 12 chain-type retail stores on this small stretch of College Avenue. It’s a mall, designed as a big-box shopping destination . . . which means multiple shopping bags & cars, cars, and more cars.
  • Safeway is ignoring the character of this neighborhood, as well it’s geography. As everyone learns in kindergarten, one can’t squeeze a large rectangle into a small triangle without breaking one or the other. Same goes for neighborhoods.

Looks like the Planning Commission meetings on this proposal are going to be interesting.

Safeway unveils new design plans for College Avenue store

30 Apr

Last night I attended what I thought would be another community meeting about Safeway. Well it turned out to be less of a meeting and more of an exhibition, which means that I don’t have dramatic moments to share but I did get to look at Safeway’s plans closely.

Overall, I’mvery pleased with what I saw. The design is modern but complementary to the neighborhood – V Smoothe’s first comment was that it looks like Market Hall, and it does, especially from this vantage point:

safewaycollegeoakland05

I love that the design is much more bike and pedestrian oriented than the current store and parking lot.  Nearly all of the parking will be hidden behind the retail stores on the ground floor and underneath the larger Safeway store that will be on the second floor. Safeway is giving up some of its property to increase the width of the street and the sidewalk. Also, there’s tons of bike parking and places to sit.

I do have a few concerns about pedestrian impacts though. They’re keeping the driveway on College, which I think is a very bad idea. It causes traffic jams and is dangerous for pedestrians. Also, there’s going to be a bus stop on College but no actual space for the bus to pull into. I’m not sure I understand how this will work, but I was promised that this was what AC Transit wanted. On the bright side, Safeway is working with AC Transit to put in a bus shelter complete with NextBus, which will be a huge improvement over the current bus stop that doesn’t even have a bench. And Safeway is looking into providing AC Transit eco-passes for its employees.

As for the store, it will be 49,000 square feet, compared to its current 25,000 feet. I think an expansion is sorely needed. The current store has very narrow aisles and just isn’t very pleasant to shop in. Probably the most exciting thing I heard last night was that because they’re expanding the store, no shelves will be higher than 5 feet! I’m really short and often find myself having to ask for help in grocery stores to reach items on the top shelf so this is my dream come true.

The increased size will also allow Safeway to expand their pathetic offerings. They currently have no bakery and their deli is basically worthless. Check out this before and after shot of the deli:deliw560h420deli_2w560h420

(You can find before and after shots of all of the departments at the Safeway website.)

Since the previous community meetings hadn’t gone so well, Safeway clearly bent over backwards to mitigate neighborhood concerns. Initially they had proposed taking away some parking spots from College (which I would have loved). Now, they’ve left those parking spots and somehow managed to add parking spots on Claremont. Additionally, they’ll have 175 parking spaces in their lot (compared to the  106 spots they currently have), all of which will be available to Safeway customers and the public. They’ve planned a closed area for trucks because neighbors have complained about loud trucks at night. They’ve also moved their generator as far from residences as possible.

But no matter how hard Safeway tries, they’ll always have their detractors. Most of the crowd last night seemed pretty calm, and many people seemed happier about the new designs. But the hardcore anti-expansion group was not mollified. They were passing out a handout titled “Rockridge IS Small Retail” (PDF), which argues that the expanded Safeway is too big and will destroy all the small businesses around it. Of course, they fail to mention that the new Safeway will have 10,000 square feet of small retail space that will house 8 or 9 small businesses.

Here were some of my favorite overheard comments of the night from the Safeway detractors:

  • “Looks like Ralphs in Encino.”
  • “This isn’t Walmart; this is Safeway.”
  • “This looks like a shopping mall in Walnut Creek.”
  • And my favorite, “You can fight it all you want, it’s like fighting God.”

You can decide for yourself whether you agree with those comments or not. Check out this great YouTube video that shows the renderings in detail from all angles:

And if you’d like to look at more of the still renderings, head to the website of Safeway’s architect, Lowney Architecture.

The next step for Safeway is a hearing before the planning commission, which I’m sure will be well attended. I’ll post about that when a date is set.

Previous posts on Safeway:

Safeway stakeholders meeting canceled (or postponed?)

8 Dec

I’ve been planning to write another long post about the College Avenue Safeway rebuild, but haven’t quite found the time. I did want to alert everyone who’s interested that the meeting that was planned for this Tuesday, December 9th has been canceled. Unfortunately, there’s no further info on Safeway’s site about when the next meeting will be or if there will be one so that’s all the information I have.

In the meantime, you can check out the sketches that I mentioned in my blog post about the last stakeholders meeting:

safeway_1

safeway_2

And if you’re looking for a good read (and by good I mean sometimes madenning and sometimes humorous), check out the notes from the last meeting. Then you’ll have a better idea of why Safeway decided to cancel or postpone tomorrow’s meeting, as it was pretty clear to me after leaving that meeting that the neighbors in attendance were never going to come to an agreement with Safeway over the project.

I’ll continue to follow this project closely and will post an update when I hear more.

Safeway Community Meeting Turns into Public Venting Session

22 Jun

I had expected Thursday night’s community meeting on the Rockridge Safeway proposal to be contentious, but I don’t think I was prepared for just how heated and lopsided it was going to get.

I arrived at the meeting about 10 minutes late and walked into Peralta at the same time as another woman approached. We started talking and she asked me what street I lived on. When I answered that I lived on Telegraph, she responded, “Oh, I didn’t realize people over there cared about this.” Pretty obnoxious considering I live about 6 blocks from the Safeway – it’s not like I said I lived on MLK or in downtown.

As I walked up to the room, I ran into another nice wake up call about what this meeting would be like. In front of the door, a few people were standing behind a table with clipboards. I assumed it was the place to sign in and get info so I approached. Then I saw that they were all wearing these stickers:

(Image from OaklandNews.)

And they didn’t have sign up sheets – they had petitions aiming to stop the Safeway project because of its size. I didn’t feel like engaging and was already late so I turned to walk inside, but it was so crowded it took me a few minutes to make my way through the door and then find a spot to stand at the back corner of the room. The place was packed – I’m sure we were breaking some fire code. Michael at OaklandNews reports that 300 people were there, and that sounds like a pretty good estimate.

The representative from Safeway, Todd Paradis, had already begun his presentation. I’m not sure, but it seemed like he was only given 15 or maybe 20 minutes to speak and Brunner was rushing him along, telling him he was running out of time. Paradis showed a bunch of slides, most of which were pictures that can be found on the project website, of current plans and future plans.

People in the crowd interrupted Paradis several times and gasped and laughed at some of what he said. I think the entire room gasped and chattered when he put this slide up:

(Image from Safeway’s project website.)

To his credit, Paradis kept his cool during the presentation, which I thought was very professional and made a good case for the need for change. He explained several times throughout that this was a work in progress and that there would be many more opportunities for community input. Strangely, there was no opportunity given for audience members to ask him questions, which I think would have been the most useful way to make the meeting productive. Instead, the meeting quickly devolved into a venting session.

Three community groups were then given 5 minutes each to discuss their feelings on the project. Someone from the Rockridge Community Planning Council (RCPC) used most of his time denying that RCPC supported this project, since his comments to the Chronicle made it seem this way. Inexplicably to me, RCPC NEVER supports projects. Sometimes they oppose and sometimes they are neutral, but they never support! Which to me means that they never want to see Rockridge changed in any way, even if it’s clearly to the benefit of the community.

A rep from the Claremont-Elmood Neighborhood Association (CENA) spoke next. CENA’s a Berkeley based group, but I take no issue with them taking a stance on this project since it’s only a few dozen feet from the Berkeley-Oakland border. Unsurprisingly to me, they’re opposing this project – they think it’s too big and doesn’t fit in with the rest of the neighborhood.

Rounding out the trio of opposition groups, Susan Shawl, a community member who’s led the opposition to the project, spoke next and tried to rile up the crowd. She went on and on about how the project is too big, how Safeway hadn’t listened to community input, and how the proposal, if carried out, would completely ruin the neighborhood.

Her sentiments were echoed again and again by the vast majority of the 80 audience members who signed up to speak. We were all given one minute, which seemed like plenty of time for people in opposition to the project, since most of them were repeating what others had said. Here are some of the complaints that came up:

  • It’s too big – both in square feet and because it’s two stories high.
  • It doesn’t fit in with the rest of the neighborhood and threatens to turn Rockridge into another cookie-cutter suburban area.
  • The increased size would lead to a huge increase in traffic, and there are already traffic problems on College.
  • The design is ugly (too cliche, too suburban, too corporate, etc.).
  • The increased offerings would compete with the locally owned stores across the street and threaten to shut them down.
  • The bigger Safeway wouldn’t attract enough customers and it would shut down, leaving a huge empty space and empty parking lot.
  • The two-story design would block the sunlight. Someone went further to say that the fact that he wouldn’t be able to sit in the sun across the street at Cole Coffee and drink his coffee was reason enough to oppose the project.
  • The design doesn’t include enough public space. One woman had the audacity to say that the current parking lot offers open public space that would be lost in the redesign.
  • Safeway’s just a big corporation that doesn’t care about the neighborhood.

After the second group of ten had finished speaking, I started to get a bit worried. Would I be the only one who had something positive to say about the project? Don’t get me wrong – I’m not afraid of having or voicing a minority opinion, but I can’t recall even one instance when I was so outnumbered.

In the third group of ten speakers, though, I was saved from being the lone supporter of change. One person got up and simply said that he didn’t think the project was too big. No one in the audience leaped up to attack him so I felt a bit better after that. A few speakers later, Zak Unger had some even more pointed words:

Zac Unger said a larger store would present an opportunity to shift shopping dollars from Berkeley to Oakland.

“I think we shouldn’t fear change,” Unger said. “I remember all the gnashing of teeth when Market Hall came in. I remember when Trader Joe’s came in. … They’re adding 15,000 square feet of shops. They’re probably the kind of shops we like.”

I joined maybe three other people in clapping for him, as he had said much of what I planned to and added some much needed perspective on the history of fights about other neighborhood projects. After he spoke, I listened to several more people speak against the project, and then my name was called.

As I waited in line at the front of the room for my turn, I started realizing how angry I felt at how unfair the meeting seemed to be and how I couldn’t possibly say all the positive things about this project in the one minute I was given in the way that the opposition had in the more than an hour and a half that they had. Though I’ve spoken in front of larger crowds and even crowds as hostile, I was getting pretty nervous and my heart was beating quickly.

When it was my turn, I started out by saying I agreed that the project needed some work. But I said I was shocked by how some people were talking about the current building and lot as if they were an acceptable part of our neighborhood. Specifically, I referred to the comment about the parking lot being public space, and then I said that I thought the current corner was atrocious and did not fit in with the character of the neighborhood. At that, the crowd gasped and I heard some negative sounds, though I couldn’t make out exact words.

I continued, saying that Safeway attracts people from outside of Oakland to spend money in Oakland, to which someone in the crowd screamed out that I was lying. I, as calmly as I could, put my hand up and asked everyone to let me continue. (The heckler continued to shout but I kept going.) I said that UC Berkeley students depend on this Safeway and you could see dozens of them there any day. I told my own story of going to UC Berkeley and shopping at Safeway and how I spent money at other businesses too and that those were some of my only trips into Oakland. I said that students go to Safeway because it’s cheap and convenient and that these students wouldn’t otherwise venture to this neighborhood because the stores were more expensive. I then said that the neighborhood could use more retail, particularly a hardware store, and that this plan would attract more shoppers to the neighborhood.

My minute was up more quickly than I had hoped and I didn’t get to say that though traffic is a concern, the current parking lot is never full, which makes me think that most people arrive there by foot, bike, or bus. I also didn’t get the chance to remind people that we weren’t talking about a new corporation coming in, but an existing store that has been party of our neighborhood for decades.

After I spoke, several more spoke in opposition to the plan, but several people also spoke in favor of working with Safeway to improve the proposal and to make this plan work for the neighborhood. Also, about five people came up to me individually and said they agreed with most of what I had said.

The meeting ended and I spoke to a few of the people standing near me. I spoke to one woman who was wearing one of the It’S too B-I-G stickers, and we had a very nice conversation. She appreciated my perspective and hadn’t thought about some of the arguments I had brought up. I asked her if she was opposed to any increase in size, and she said that she was not, but that she didn’t like the current project. She shops at Safeway and appreciates the convenience but is concerned about the changes it will bring to the neighborhood. My guess is that most of the people in the crowd who didn’t speak felt much like this woman – they’re scared of what they see of as a big corporation taking control of the future of their neighborhood, but they’re willing to compromise and to accept some changes.

As I was speaking to this woman, the owner of La Farinne (the bakery across the street from Safeway) interrupted our conversation and yelled at me that I was wrong. He glared at me and said that his loaves of bread were a dollar cheaper than the loaves at Safeway. I tried to explain that I was not talking specifically about his store and that UC Berkeley students wouldn’t know that his store was cheaper, but he cut me off and said, “A dollar cheaper, our loaves are a dollar cheaper,” as he waved his finger at me.

I’ve only bought bread at La Farinne a couple times because I usually get my bread at the farmers market, but I’m never going back there. I really couldn’t believe how rude the owner had been to me. It was completely unnecessary.

On that note, I finished up the conversation I was having and walked home. I left feeling extremely frustrated and like this meeting had been stacked against the Safeway proposal by how it was organized and carried out.

Safeway plans to submit an initial proposal to the city by the end of July, and there will be many, many more meetings on this plan. Hopefully future meetings will be more productive than this one. Until then, I at least feel a bit better (and less alone) reading some of the positive and more level-headed critical comments left at the Safeway proposal website or Eric’s analysis of the project at Transbay Blog.