Public Comment

Secondary Opinion on the Safeway Project

By Tad Laird.
Wednesday April 13, 2011 - 04:05:00 PM

I feel that the commentary written but Mr. Buttrick on the 5th that reduces the Safeway remodeling to a question of “walkability” does a great disservice to the many factors at play in this heavily developed urban neighborhood, and needs another perspective. Since the comparison he draws are between Piedmont, Temescal and College, lets use those locations – even though I think only College has a major grocery store. 

One of the first things we need to acknowledge is that all three neighborhoods are doing better than others due to the accessibility and amount of parking. Piedmont has a very large, city maintained lot, and Temescal has a large parking area developed along with the Temescal Plaza ( a newer development just slightly smaller than that proposed by Safeway, that greatly boosted that area economically ). The section of College surrounding the Safeway at Claremont relies almost entirely on the Safeway parking lot. Once people drive into any of these areas and park, then walkability issues become fairly minor. But if you run the length of College, from Bancroft in Berkeley to Broadway in Oakland, or any other neighborhood commercial district, it is easy to see that those areas with the most parking availability are also the most “vibrant” and diverse. I'd suggest that the “liveliness and vitality” they exhibit (to quote), has a lot more to do with access to and ease of parking than with any other single factor. Imagine what would happen to the local businesses if Safeway restricted their lot to only their customers use while shopping – I think Safeway would see a small drop in business, but all the other businesses on the block would suffer greatly. 

Secondly, we should address accessibility – Piedmont Ave has parallel streets and cross streets providing traffic alternate routes for deliveries and buses, and large apartment buildings providing many local customers. Temescal has parallel corridors as well, but is also at the intersection of Telegraph and 51st, each 4 lanes, plus the intersection of Claremont Aves, another 4 lanes, and a freeway – all providing lots of accessibility. Our Safeway is accessible from Claremont, but Berkeley and Oakland's combined failure to manage traffic flow on College has made it a congested mess with no alternatives – to the point that even AC Transit considers College Ave one of the worst streets to get buses through in their entire system. 

For anyone living within a few blocks, carrying or rolling a couple bags of groceries home weekly can be easily done, although weather can make it awkward. Bus and bike access, which College excels at compared to other locations, become more important the more you buy and the further away you are. But if you live more than a half dozen blocks away, especially east or west, walking to the grocery store year-round becomes almost impossible. If you shop at this Safeway, you would have noticed the large numbers of seniors and students that rely on it, and access it primarily via bus – most of whom don't have the luxury of driving across town to do large shopping trips. It is a lifeline for many in the South Berkeley / North-east Oakland area that are on fixed incomes, or have limited means, which nowadays is many of us. 

What is really on the table now is a more accessible, modern, and convenient grocery store, that could offer greater diversity of product, and one that could greatly reduce the amount of driving many of us would need to do – are doing now - yet whose design could improve the appearance of the area, whole still offering the many surrounding small businesses the two things they need to survive – parking and foot traffic. 

The small shops will exist as long as people support them – but to suggest that the only threat to them are “corporations” “willfully graft(ing) their mega-store visions” is a perverse view of the situation. Just as well-designed infill housing and mixed-use development on urban transit corridors makes environmental and economic sense, the opportunity to intelligently expand and improve resources that a community absolutely relies upon – like groceries – should be greeted with a much more open mind, with more thought about the balance of needs, the diversity of the population, and the awareness of possibilities that can improve lives and environments while acknowledging the inevitability and need for change. 

The Safeway facility on College is outdated, inadequate, inefficient, and an eyesore. While the population, our expectations, and the demands on our time have all increased, our local grocery store, providing our most basic needs, has not. Plus, Safeway simply does not have the skills, talent, or expertise to replace the specialty merchants that co-exist with them, no matter how large they build. Safeway also lacks any vision of how we want our neighborhood to look and feel in the future – they can only rely on their architects, who must work within their restraints – but we, as a community, can provide the bigger vision and suggest greater possibilities - once we acknowledge that Safeway has been and should remain an important part of our neighborhood and our future, and that we want and need to work together for common goals. 

I don't think all of Safeway's ideas are great – but I want to have the best and most affordable grocery I can, and Safeway has generally been pretty good. I think we need to work together and make it better.