New plans unveiled for Safeway store on Shattuck

Safeway as seen from Shattuck

Safeway’s new designs for a remodeled store on Shattuck Avenue will make the grocery store an integral part of the lively Gourmet Ghetto.

The new plans, which were unveiled July 26, call for outdoor benches and café seating along Shattuck Avenue, as well as the installation of large windows that will allow pedestrians to see inside the store.

“Today’s design is a vast improvement over the current store — both inside and out,” Elisabeth Jewell, Safeway’s community and government affairs consultant wrote in a letter to neighbors. “Great care was taken to bring the store out to Shattuck, enliven the corner with chairs and tables and attractive benches, provide vistas into the store by adding lots of glass, and modernize the exterior using concrete, composite wood, quartzite tile and glazed aluminum.  We responded to many concerns brought to us by neighbors including retaining more trees, increasing bicycle and pedestrian safety, enclosing the loading dock, relocating mechanical equipment, and eliminating outside dumpsters and recycling.

The new design features a revamped parking lot with designated pedestrian paths shaded by a new canopy of trees.  A ramp from the surface lot leads to underground parking which will be light and bright and have easy access to the store.   The landscaping plan calls for saving most of the healthy mature trees, while adding thirty new trees, along with drought tolerant shrubs, bay friendly groundcovers, and climbing vines that cover walls facing Henry Street and deter graffiti.  Native grasses and plants on the Henry Street side serve as a bioswale, filtering groundwater run-off before it empties into stormwater drains.  The remodeled building will be far more energy efficient and is expected to be LEED compliant.”

Cafe seating along Shattuck Avenue

The changes came after Safeway showed its plans at a community meeting in December at the Jewish Community Center. Participants at that meeting, including Councilman Laurie Capitelli and members of the North Shattuck Merchants’ Association, advocated for a more urban, pedestrian-oriented plan. They were concerned that the store would present a blank wall on Shattuck, which would cut off the community.

Since then, Safeway has held four meetings with Berkeley’s Design Review Commission, and has incorporated their suggestions.

The Zoning Adjustments Board will hold a hearing on the revamped plan on Aug. 12.

aerial view of Safeway

Print Friendly
Tagged , , , , ,
Please keep our community civil. Comments should remain on topic and be respectful.
Read our full comments policy »
  • Alan T

    What’s missing from this prettified plan is the new housing we still need near downtown.

    This is a great opportunity site to put 2 or 3 stories of urban walking-oriented housing at one end of the Gourmet Ghetto — ABOVE the store and/or making better use of the existing suburban-style surface parking lot. Who wouldn’t want to live there?

    “Concerned neighbors,” of course — the same folks who have opposed a pedestrian plaza in a couple of nearby blocks on Shattuck — rail on about the evils of “development.” But the real fear is a selfish one — that new infill will make it harder for them to park right in front of whatever store they drive to. That’s not a rational fear: residents in such a project need not be granted either inside parking or residential parking permits. The “walkability score” here is already off the charts, making a personal car unnecessary for daily needs.

    Safeway has done it very right in places like Portland, where mixed-use store developments have become a major asset to their neighborhoods. We should settle for no less here.

    It would even be better for Safeway. In a smart project their currently-expected construction costs could be heavily subsidized by a housing-development partner who would itself be spared the full cost of buying the land and thus also benefit. Why is win-win-win the wrong idea here?

  • tizzielish

    I would like to understand, Alan T. why you say we need new housing downtown. I am asking with sincere interest. I live downtown, and the big new apartment buildings always have vacancies, except the affordable housing ones, for which there is deep, unmet need.

    The Safeway site, of course, is not actually downtown yet you seem to mush that site together with your statement about the need for more housing downtown.

    I venture to guess that the reason Safeway has not sought to integrate housing into their store removation is that they are not in the housing business, such changes would take many, many years of planning with the city and Berkeley’s very active activist community. I think it took eight years to get the new Trader Joe’s building approved. That’s a long, expensive investment.

    Have you. Alan, tried to get Safeway to imlement your ideas about housing for that site? Did you offer to give them resources, like investment, to deal with implementing housing? Who should take the lead on such an effort? I am curious who you think should have done what you suggest. I know we are a community and as a ‘whole’ we all share responsibility for our city’s wellbeing but someone has to step up and then be prepared to ride out the years of hard work to make that kind of change happen.

    And, I remind us, the Safeway store is not downtown!

    Putting residential condos or rental apartments in that neighborhood would be a significant change to the area. Yes, it’s walkable. Yes, it sounds like there are many positives. I am sure there are also negatives, esp. to the homeowners nearby who already own and live there.

    It’s not all that simple to slap housing above a grocery store. That would very meaningfully change the character of that street. Such a change should only come about with careful, community-wide deliberation. Who is responsible for initiating such a dialogue? Safeway? the city? ??

    And it’s not a simple matter to slap more housing downtown. Sure, students will stuff themselves into new apartments near the campus but is that what we want? And downtown is not all that livable. I hail the arrival of Trader Joe’s, but TJ’s is not a full shop. And I regularly walk to Safeway or Berkeley Bowl because I don’t own a car and it is often faster to walk than wait for a bus. . . but those grocery stores are not actually downtown either. Downtown Berkeley is very livable and very walkable and I love living here. It’s the right choice for me. In truth, I hardly ever go into grocery stores. I try to buy all my food at farmers markets. I buy coffee at Safeway but I buy Peet’s coffee and I could buy that right on my block at Peet’s. And I buy organic dairy in grocery stores.

    It’s not a very cosy, neighborly place to live. It doesn’t feel very friendly. There is the park at city hall and I know high school kids hang out there, as do many homeless but it is not a welcoming family kind of atmosphere. If I were still raising kids, I wouldn’t want to live here. Where would my kids play? Kids still need to play, right? I suspect that more housing downtown will end up being more housing for students. Which might be okay. But ‘more housing’ is a complex decision for a community to make. I am interested to know why so think we need more housing downtown. What would Berkeley get out of that? I know what the developers would get: money. But how is the whole city of Berkeley served by adding demands on our community resources, such as streets, fire, police, schools, parks, etc. . . From what I have seen, the berkeley mayor and city council give away lots of goodies to developers waiving reasonable development fees, not creating adequate affordable housing for working class citizens who work here and want to live here. . . but then the developers sell as soon as they fill up their places, stripping wealth from the community, and guess what, the amenities the developers vaguely promised the city when they bullshitted city staff and the mayor into believing they couldn’t make a buck unless development fees are waived .. guess what? They make a ton of money, they give nothing to the city and they move on to the next income opportunity without giving much back. And then students double up in every bedroom, paying rising rents because they are young and in college and don’t mind living that way . . . . . where does it end? I don’t know answers but I know that a decision to put housing in the Gourmet Ghetto is a majorly complex one.

    I think Safeway’s response to community input seems fairly good to me. Opening the Shattuck side of their new store, accomodation neighbors needs on Henry . . . it looks like a lot of good compromise. Good, decent people doing their best to be good and decent. In the end, that’s about as good as the city can eask for.

  • Alan T

    tizzielish, I used the phrase “near downtown” rather than just “downtown” to suggest that north Shattuck has a distinctly different character than our actual downtown district, and therefore needs its own consideration.

    But north Shattuck is also different from an auto-dominated suburb, so proposing a surface parking lot in an urban district is a big waste of potential. This pretty design may be perfect for Pleasanton, but is not for ANYWHERE in Berkeley.

  • Alan T,

    I’ll get to the points where I agree with you and have some suggestions but, first:

    Adding another story or two to that building would at the very least have a pretty negative impact on morning light reaching Henry St. I wonder if it wouldn’t also help create a kind of wind tunnel effect. I’m also not too keen on killing a surface parking lot there (and I, like tizzielish, don’t even have a car nevermind drive). Even if we stipulate that the future is a car-free utopia of some sort, just think of it as open space in waiting. Tear up a little asphalt when we get to that point. Meanwhile, if anything, using that space as parking lot I would *guess* currently reduce, not increase car miles traveled compared to if you could shut it down tomorrow. I dunno. That’s my eyeball guess. Shrug.

    But, hey…. you want to work on density and enhance the amount of car-free living possible? Why not turn your eye upon south Sacramento? Looking at it I think there’s a harsh thicket there in the sense of lots of property owners of underdeveloped parts that you’d have to deal with. There’s also hard, hard (real) problems not screwing over the adjacent residential streets too badly. But we could use some economic and built-environment improvements there – and more affordable housing.

    There are some other similar areas around the periphery that I think could use thoughtful development. Downtown is in many respects, overbuilt, for now. It’s a political legacy of past decades that so much “development” attention is paid down there. I say (every chance I have a flimsy excuse, like here): build up the periphery and work on intra-city public transit. Northside is just about the peripheral place that needs the least attention at this time.

  • Diane

    I do not think a retailer should in any way be in the position of developing housing as their mission. It’s not in their wheelhouse, they don’t have the $ to finance such a thing, and it’s not part of their core business. If another more broad-based developer wanted to do such a thing, and then offer part of that space to Safeway to fit out as a major Tenant – that would be different. Such a thing is done every day in mixed-use lifestyle centers all over the country. But to expect Safeway to act as a developer? No. That sort of thing is very rare, for the reason it rarely works well. And as far as I can see, no developer has proposed such a thing here. It would be the developer’s responsibility to do that work, not Safeway. I would no more expect Safeway to build housing than I would expect Macerich or Trammell Crow to start selling bananas.

    Safeway does not need to be in the business or developing and selling residential property. They should be in the business of upgrading their fleet, and ensuring the best possible experience to their customers. I have not reviewed these plans in detail to know if these do that, but that is the criteria it should be judged by.

  • “Putting residential condos or rental apartments in that neighborhood would be a significant change to the area.”

    I know something about this neighborhood, having lived there for the past decade — in a condo. There are quite a number of condos in the vicinity, as the neighborhood started off as a major streetcar suburb.

    So, a condo development would hardly be out of character; whereas a 1950’s-style shopping plaza sticks out like a sore thumb.

    One suspects that when neighorhood “activists” talk about a “significant change”, they aren’t referring to the architecture, but rather the kinds of people who might live in an apartment. You know, lower-income, people-of-color, that sort of ilk. I am saddened and ashamed to hear so much of this talk in Berkeley, of all places.

  • deirdre

    “Why not turn your eye upon south Sacramento?” (I’m thinking Thomas means south of Sacramento street – ?) I’d agree. From my point of view as a bus rider, the San Pablo transit corridor is pretty functional. Furthermore, there are interesting bits of historic architecture here and there that deserve to be better seen and better used. It doesn’t need to be entirely re-vamped — the area already has lots of great features — but I suspect there are various pieces of this area that could be put to higher & better use. In some cases that might mean more housing. (D. Engineer, I’m not trying to be a NIMBY here, since I live much closer to the San Pablo corridor than the North Berkeley Safeway store.)

  • I don’t think adding housing would have an effect on morning sunlight on Henry St. Look at the aerial view at the beginning of this post, and you will see that the new construction is on a rather narrow strip near Shattuck. The great bulk of the site nearer to Henry would still have the same one-story Safeway building.

    I am in favor of more housing on San Pablo – but that is not an argument against housing here.

    I think a few stories of housing would be a good thing here, because it would be such a convenient, walkable neighborhood for residents, but I doubt if it will happen, because Safeway is the developer and housing is not part of Safeway’s mission, as commenters have said.

    Looking at the aerial view, the proposal looks smaller than I expected. I had heard that Safeway wanted to double the size of its store – increasing floor space by 100%. This proposal looks like it increases floor space by maybe 30% or 35%.

  • Yes, I meant the south part of Sacramento St.

    Back in the 70s we had a controversial expansion of the light industrial zone. Not to re-open that wound but at least the end state – having a decent size light industrial zone – makes a heck of a lot of sense, even today. The more we can make within the city for local consumption and export, with local employment, the more money circulates locally.

    Yet, these days, easy big money deals with huge corporations and the university get most of the attention. This is “pass through” money: little authentically local economic development; production not for local consumption; profits get shipped out of town just about as fast as they arrive. Quick, build a new restaurant. It is as though the planning vision here is to turn the Berkeley flats and Oceanside into the Google cafeteria. (Google is also said to be building dorms, these days.)

    In the 70s, it seems to me, there was a populist sentiment that Berkeley ought to be seen as a town of craft and small-scale entrepreneurship – with a sense of style. We need that back, with a heavy emphasis on job creation. Build up the periphery. Get the light industrial zone back on its intended track. Build up intra-city public transit that doesn’t rely on the regional transport agencies. Downtown will surely then flourish anew and the city coffers be far more manageable.

  • elmwood neighbor

    Interesting to compare with what Safeway is doing over at College Ave store

  • s z underwood


    You should run for city council on your proposed “bring back the 1970s” platform. I don’t think you lived here then (my apologies, if mistaken!), but since political platforms and messages are always more rooted in a backward looking mythology of restoring halcyon days than any reality, I don’t see that as an impediment.

    I never saw the program, but I suspect there is probably some recognizable theme music from “That ’70s Show” which you could blare at your campaign rallies.

  • deirdre

    Back to the original question of a Safeway supermarket renovation . . . is there any firm concept about how many supermarket or grocery stores ought to exist per capita? I seem to recall that the new T. Joe’s had many supporters because there was a perceived dearth of food-shopping options in the area. But compared to other neighborhoods and cities I’ve inhabited (both east coast and west coast), Berkeley appears to have a high number of food-shopping opportunities per capita. (Albeit some of these are $$ pricey.) It’s great to have Berkeley Bowl West in a location south of San Pablo. Sometimes I’m a bit mystified that some of these larger markets stay open in Berkeley given competition. B. Bowl (2 locations), T. Joes, Safeway (2 locations), Whole Foods, Andronicos (3 locations) . . . seems like a lot of stores to me.

  • s z underwood


    Good question. A manager at one of the Andronico’s recently informed me that only the Solano store is really turning a consistent profit at this point and thereby supporting the other Berkeley stores. Especially in summertime, with most of the students gone, the Telegraph and University stores particularly hemorrhage money. I am sure the new TJ’s in central Berkeley will impact the bottom line some more (although a checker at TJ’s in EC told me that they expected as much as a 30% drop in business once the Berkeley story opened, but thus far business had only been down about 10%).

    Some of us remember the “tragic” demise of the Co-op stores in Berkeley. So, it’s absolutely possible for a surfeit of these stores to bleed each other dry.

  • Deirdre and then underwood:

    The B. Bowls and I think Whole Foods draw from out of town. The B. Bowls also do commercial wholesale. Also, there isn’t a huge amount of direct competition – there is a lot of differentiation. For example, compare the meat counters or the home paper/cleaning aisles at Safeway vs. Berkeley Bowl: very different product-line and household budget emphasis. Or the complete craziness of the Bowls at popular shopping times vs. the relatively staid atmosphere at Andronico’s on Shattuck. Hmm… perhaps, if we are going to look for the hidden agendas of “concerned neighbors” (and I don’t see any reason to do so but suppose we do as people are here) we could guess at it being fear that they’ll move into Andronico’s niche.

    Underwood: fantastic idea! You’re in charge of fund-raising for my campaign and also damage control with the press as my sordid past comes out in what it certain to be a dirty campaign. I didn’t do it and I promise to not do it again. It was all a terrible series of mistakes that never happened. In exchange I’ll make you my chief of staff unless you’d rather have some sweet committee appointments. Perhaps a newly formed committee: “The Commission to Apply Some Common Sense to Berkeley Politics with Occasional Meanish Digs at Others in the Form of Literary References Unfamiliar to Most.” (CASCSBPOMDOFLRUM). (Oh, the music you’re thinking of is some Big Star tune that’s actually kind of catchy.) Early polling suggests we’ve already overtaken Running Wolf but the race is expected to be close.

    Seriously, though, I think our current orientation in planning and development is firmly but tragically rooted in a few decades of credit bubble with a side helping of the now diminished high-tech venture capital bubble. Politics is backward-looking indeed.

  • s z underwood

    Well, since you appointed me your campaign chair, I do have a few platform ideas for you to run on…

    • Roll back all rents to 1975 rates in 2010 dollars and revive vacancy control

    • “Rent is Theft” is your chief election slogan

    • Void enforcement of all other Costa-Hawkins provisions within Berkeley city limits

    • Maximum four day work week in Berkeley for all city employees (with five days pay)

    • Retirement with full pension anytime after the age of 40 for city employees after five years service

    • Mandate minimum six weeks of paid vacation per annum for all employed in Berkeley

    • Free healthcare for all at city operated health clinics based on the principles of Rolfing

    • Free marijuana products to all comers

    • Legalize prostitution and all forms of pornography

    • Decriminalize all drug use

    • Lower the voting age to 12

    • Pledge to install “bollards” on at least one end of all city blocks to “calm” all vehicular traffic

    • Remove all curb side parking to promote walking, cycling and (of course) public transit

    • Evict all fast food franchises and other chain stores even if only vacant store fronts are left

    • Revive the Co-op in place of Andronico’s & Whole Foods

    • Hold all public meetings in People’s Park to get a broader and more diverse range of voices in the public process

    • Pledge to shut down LBL entirely and distribute the land to the homeless

    • Pledge to withhold all city services to UCB until they have an open, unlimited admissions program to promote more class and race diversity

    • Out all creeks and restore them to their “natural path” even if homes or properties now lie in their path

    • Reintroduce wild Grizzly Bears to Tilden Park

    • Pledge to support an Ohlone Indian Gaming Casino somewhere in West Berkeley

    • Disarm all Berkeley Police officers and outfit them with foam lightsabers

    • Transform Caesar Chavez Park into a city operated hemp plantation and call it Caesar’s Hempville

    • Vacation in Cuba

    • If the voters fail to approve any of your bond measures, get together with the vice-mayor and flash the “finger” to the voters the next day for a Daily Cal photo op

    • Promote EST themed small schools (Berkeley was teeming with “EST-holes” in the 1970s)

  • Robert Collier

    Kudos to Laurie Capitelli and others who pushed Safeway to abandon its first two designs (ugly and uglier) and to open the side of the store to Shattuck. It’s a real improvement. Unfortunately, the plans on Safeway’s website are low-res and cannot be zoomed to show the architectural details legibly. So neighbors and Safeway shoppers like myself have to squint at their computer screens and hazard some comments. Here goes: The zig-zag front along Shattuck is nice, but the color scheme seems drab and Emeryville-ish, at least on my computer. And the cafe tables in the nooks — what is their purpose, if the nooks themselves have no doorways? Will they be used by shoppers and locals, or by the homeless? Perhaps the nooks should simply be filled with landscaping, to soften the somewhat over-modern design? Another public meeting would be useful. I shop at this Safeway at least once per week, and I’m glad that the design has improved. But more public communication would be appreciated.

  • Underwood: You’re fired.

  • deirdre

    Underwood: Here’s an advance on your screenplay.

  • EBGuy

    Finally, a centrist candidate…
    If we are lucky, they will find a shell mound beneath the Safeway parking lot and it can be designated an asphalt park in perpetuity.

  • Mike Farrell

    I was going to make an intelligent assessment of Safeway’s current and past proposals for this site, but this doesn’t seem to be the place.

  • CJ Higley

    Intelligent assessments aside, do I detect early signs of a “surface parking open space preservation movement” afoot? Parking lots, the new parks! Wear your helmets, kids!

    Needless to say, I am not persuaded by the loss-of-morning-light argument, either. We live in a city – an urban environment – where there is a reasonable expectation that structures will be built beside and across the street from one another. Building sound housing near transit and amenities benefits our city in all sorts of ways:

    – more residents to support our downtown and other retail districts (so there is some “there” there);

    – more eyes on the street to improve public safety;

    – more opportunities for people to live a car free lifestyle (or to reduce reliance on cars, at any rate — just because we will never achieve a car-free utopia is no reason not to take sensible steps to plan our city and region in a way that reduces vehicle miles traveled; incremental improvements still count — it’s not and shouldn’t be an all-or-nothing proposition);

    – increased tax revenue to support our schools, parks, libraries, health services and (with some much-needed leadership and reform) a long term infrastructure improvement strategy;

    – increased housing numbers that will relieve demand on existing housing and improve affordability, especially for workforce housing; and

    – restoring the urban fabric along the old streetcar lines, which makes the City feel like it is built for people, not cars.

  • EBGuy

    It is truly a frightening situation that is ‘developing’ in Berkeley. I can envision a time when the Spenger’s lot will be the only place I can take my child to breath deeply the smell of hot tar baking in the sun. Quite frankly, I don’t want my children leading such a sheltered life that they don’t know what a surface lot is. Imagine the shock they will feel visiting Hilltop Mall for the first time.
    This post is not for the sarcasm impaired. Read at your own risk of interpretation.

  • EBGuy

    And the cafe tables in the nooks — what is their purpose, if the nooks themselves have no doorways?
    I just realized — this is CheeseBoard overflow seating. Serendipity.

  • Diane

    All these people pushing for housing…it’s wildly unrealistic.

    Who exactly is going to develop it??? Like I said above, Safeway is not a developer. Someone would need to fund, manage, develop, and sell units in this “housing” construction project. And it wouldn’t be a grocery store. Without a master developer, or the city doing it (and do they even own that land?) it’s all a pipe dream. What is a more reasonable question, is how CAN Safeway develop their store in the best way possible here.

    Housing is great. I love urban housing. I love mixed-use development. But you cannot expect a grocery store to go into the condo development business. That’s not even remotely on the table here.

  • Alan T

    The actuality is that PART of Safeway is indeed a [mixed-use] “developer” in the sense you mean.

    There are two Safeway divisions at war: Development and Real Estate. Real Estate works to “improve” existing sites to the “current corporate standard” (meaning cloning suburban-friendly designs) while Development looks for new (often mixed-use, as in Portland) possibilities. Regrettably, Real Estate owns the north Berkeley project, at least for now. Only if this project is denied or significantly delayed could Development possibly get a chance. The turf war is apparently pretty ugly.

    Housing is not part of Real Estate Safeway’s mission. But the Development folks have learned to partner with private-sector developers, who as part of a largish mixed-use project can massively subsidize a new Safeway store — costing the company only a fraction of the cost of renovating/upgrading a standalone. That’s certainly the alternate model here, one much to be preferred.

    The ZAB, meeting on Aug 12, would be within its powers to reject the presumptive Safeway design solely because it does not meet the housing potential specified in the zoning for the parcel when it could easily do so at less cost to Safeway. As could the Council on appeal.

  • Diane

    I worked for many years for retail development (for another company) – mostly they do NOT develop real estate for alternate uses aside from their core mission. DEvelopment finds the spaces and negotiates deals with owners/developers, and RE builds the stores. You are correct they could team with a mixed-use developer to build out a mixed-use space – but that developer would be the one to deal with the housing and master plan. The developer would own the property, deal with core & shell, etc. Short of a developer to take on that role – and to own and develop the space – what is being proposed is not realistic or feasible.

  • Mike Farrell

    Safeway’s proposed remodel is truly unfortunate. The original proposal, first floated about 2 years ago was for a complete rebuild. The intent was to have a two story structure with the grocery on the second floor and shops fronting the sidewalk at ground level. The street facade would have continued well north of what is now proposed with sidewalk entry to the shops and the main store lobby. There was street level parking behind the northern shops and basement parking. The design had a minor parking loss of about 5 spaces; the current design seems to lose several, maybe a dozen spaces to make room for the addition.

    Safeway abandoned this plan, not due to opposition from the neighbors, though there was some, but due to the permitting process, and an insistence within City Hall to include housing.

    The disconnected nooks seem an artifact of the earlier proposal intended to make some engagement with the street. More likely they’ll be collectors for wind blown trash, or worse.

    The entire situation has it’s roots in how badly and unimaginatively the city dealt with the demise of the Key System rail. This area and even more strikingly Adeline Street are overbroad with vacant medians. Contrast this to the Cheeseboard Pizza crowd perched dangerously on the much smaller median one block south.

    People who complain about auto congestion should consider how much livelier the more congested area is.

    The Shattuck/Vine area has several serious pedestrian deficits. The entire west side of Shattuck by Safeway is a wasteland, and to cross to CVS requires crossing seven traffic lanes; CVS’s wall on Shattuck has it’s own lack of charm ranging from merely tedious to dirty and threatening. Andronico,s parking lot is only mitigated by the relative narrowness of Shattuck, and Earthly Goods frontage is only of interest for it’s use of stovepipe as a toilet drain.

    There are many changes that would improve this area, but it seems many Berkeleyites are as resistant to change as any other aging populace.