RCPC Says No to College Avenue Safeway Expansion, Design Change Sought

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Saturday July 19, 2008 - 03:57:00 PM

After months of deliberating neighborhood concerns about Safeway’s proposed expansion plans on College Avenue, the Rockridge Community Planning Council (RCPC) announced its decision to oppose the project last week. 

The national supermarket chain was scheduled to submit an application for the proposed project to the Oakland Planning Department at the end of this month, but Safeway representatives said today (Friday) it had postponed plans to apply to the city to address the community’s concerns. 

Safeway’s plans to “lifestyle” a 25,000-square-foot store at the intersection of College and Claremont by expanding it to almost three times its current size has met with stiff opposition from a large number of nearby residents, who fear the project will ruin the neighborhood’s small-town charm, increase traffic and threaten local independent businesses. 

“We are not going to the planning committee right now,” Esperanza Greenwood, a spokesperson for Safeway, told the Planet. “We are going to be reviewing options and taking into consideration the community’s needs.” 

Greenwood said area residents had asked Safeway to take more input from the community and design a smaller project. 

“We are working with our design team to incorporate those inputs,” she said. “We are taking into account all the comments. It’s going to take us a while.” 

In a letter to Todd Paradis, manager of Safeway Inc’s Northern California Real Estate Section, on July 11, RCPC Chair Stuart Flashman explained the reason behind the board’s unanimous decision. 

“The Rockridge Community Planning Council appreciates Safeway’s efforts to involve the community in developing its plans for rebuilding its College Avenue Safeway store,” the letter stated. “It is in that spirit of cooperation and constructive criticism that the RCPC Board of Directors, acting on the unanimous recommendation of the RCPC Land Use Committee, opposes the current Safeway College Avenue rebuild project.” 

The organization cited the project’s size and incompatibility with the neighborhood, as well as inadequate information about the proposed plans as the principal reasons for opposing the plan. 

“The project is too big and will cause major negative impacts on the community,” Flashman’s letter said. “The information provided to the public is totally inadequate for serious discussion of the project. RCPC hopes that Safeway will take these criticisms to heart, especially given the strong and almost unanimously negative response its plans received at the recent community meeting on the project. The existing College Avenue Safeway has been and continues to be an important and valued part of the Rockridge community. We are hopeful that Safeway will come up with revised plans for remodeling or rebuilding this store that will respond to the community’s needs and concerns.” 

Speaking to the Planet this week, Flashman said the board gave considerable importance to the community’s concerns about the proposed project. 

“We’ve been looking at the project since last year and we considered the public’s comments at the last community meeting in June,” he said. “We are not asking Safeway to not upgrade the store, but we want it to keep to the current size.” 

About 300 people turned up at the June 19 public meeting at Peralta Elementary School to hear Safeway’s new plans for its College Avenue store, and more than 60 neighbors spoke against the project. 

One of them was Claremont resident Susan Shawl, who is spearheading the group Concerned Neighbors to oppose Safeway’s plans. 

“I am glad,” Shawl said of RCPC’s decision. “Safeway is talking about expanding the store to have all these different services, but we already have all those services in the store or nearby. We aren’t really getting anything more. I would like to see what Safeway has to say in response to RCPC’s decision.” 

In an e-mail to Shawl on July 10, Elizabeth Jewel of Aroner Jewel and Ellis, the public relations firm hired by Safeway to keep the community updated about the project, said the grocery chain was evaluating its next steps. 

“We are not going to adhere to any self-imposed timeline for submittal of the plans but rather take our time to continue listening to neighbors as new drawings are prepared,” she said. 

According to Safeway’s planners the new store will feature a full-service meat counter, an extensive organic produce section and a flower shop, departments it currently lacks. Shops directly across College Avenue from Safeway already include a florist, meat shop, and a produce market.