Safeway will hold a series of public meetings starting today (Wednesday) at Oakland’s Claremont Middle School in an effort to come up with a different design for remodeling its College Avenue store.
The national grocery chain put together a group of stakeholders who will participate in discussions about the new plans after local merchants and neighbors vociferously opposed the corporation’s proposal to convert the less than 25,000-square-foot 1960s-era grocery store to one more than three times its current size.
About 300 people packed the Peralta Elementary School in June to hear Safeway’s expansion plans, and more than 70 people spoke in opposition, expressing fear that “big box” development would ruin the quiet ambiance of the corner at Claremont and College on the Berkeley-Oakland border where the store is located.
Others viewed the project as a threat to existing businesses, saying that what Safeway calls a “lifestyle” store, with a bakery, pharmacy and bigger meat and produce sections, would destroy the essence of the neighborhood, where small independent shops now sell gourmet bread, meat and seafood.
Safeway’s real estate developer Todd Paradis pointed out that the existing Safeway lacked a number of important departments, including a full-service meat counter, an extensive organic produce section and a flower shop.
According to an e-mail sent out by Elisabeth Jewel of Aroner, Jewel & Ellis Partners—the consultants, whose primary partners include former Assemblymember Dion Aroner, hired by Safeway for community outreach about the expansion projects—the members of the “stakeholders’ working group” have agreed to meet regularly to share their “expertise, perspective and opinions in creating a new store” that Safeway hoped neighbors would be proud of.
The e-mail stated that the meeting would be professionally facilitated with “the goal of discovering common ground and consensus on hard issues such as the size, scale, and design of a new store and possibly ground floor retail space.”
The meetings will be open to the public and minutes will be posted on www.safewayoncollege.com.
Pamela Hopkins, managing partner of the Berkeley-based ENACT Global Consulting business, will facilitate the meetings of the stakeholders’ group—made up of representatives from the Rockridge Community Planning Council, the Claremont Elmwood Neighborhood Association, the Rockridge District Association, Concerned Neighbors of College Avenue Safeway, College Avenue merchants who have stores right across the street from Safeway and neighbors whose properties abuts Safeway—throughout the discussions.
Safeway representatives will also be participating in the meetings and have a seat at the stakeholders table.
Susan Shawl and Nancy McKay of Concerned Neighbors, the group formed to oppose Safeway’s expansion plans, said they hoped the process would result in something positive.
“I am hopeful that we will get some answers,” Shawl said. “We would like Safeway to modify its plan to be in line with what the neighbors want. We are hoping for a major renovation of the existing store instead of a 75,000-square-foot development. Every question would be answered if they did a major renovation rather than expand.”
Shawl added that some of the stakeholders would like to negotiate the meeting dates proposed by Safeway.
“They [Safeway] set up the schedule without talking to anyone,” she said. “Some of the meetings are on Mondays and some on Wednesdays and some allow only nine days in-between, which leaves us no time to report back to the members in our organization.”
Safeway was scheduled to submit an application for the proposed project to the Oakland Planning Department at the end of July, but postponed its plans in order to address community concerns.
Calls to Safeway’s spokesperson Esperanza Greenwood were not returned by the paper’s deadline.
“I am optimistic that the communications will become public and we see it as a final and last opportunity to bring forth the neighborhood’s concerns,” said McKay. “It was Safeway’s idea to have the meetings but we have been quietly working with them to get the meetings off the ground.”
Meeting dates: Sept. 10 and 22, Oct. 1, 13 and 22, and Nov. 3, 7-9 p.m. at the Claremont Middle School, 5750 College Ave., Oakland. Parking is available on the playground of the school off of Miles Avenue.