Locals protest scale, traffic of new Rockridge Safeway

Rendering of the Lowney Architecture design for the proposed Rockridge Safeway

Plans to rebuild the Safeway store on College and Claremont on the Oakland-Berkeley border have been on the drawing board for more than two years. In fact, the store has put a number of different proposals in front of the city of Oakland and local residents. And, while the latest design, by Lowney Architecture, has met with broad approval, the scale of the project and its impact on local traffic are still stumbling blocks to development.

Local residents and small business owners, from both sides of the border, came out in force to a July 20 hearing of the Oakland Planning Commission’s Draft Environmental Impact Report on the redevelopment of the store, which is at 6310 College Avenue. The turn-out was so large, the crowd had to move from the Planning Commission chambers to those of the City Council. The meeting was continued until August 3rd.

Current plans call for the Rockridge store to more than double its square footage, and they show eight new retail shops, a restaurant and an elevated walkway, among other amenities.

It’s not the first time locally that residents have opposed the Pleasanton-based supermarket chain. Residents in north Berkeley put the kibosh on a full-scale renovation to the Gourmet Ghetto Safeway last year. And plans for a revamp in Albany also met resistance.

As the Chronicle reports today, Safeway’s mission to reshape neighborhoods throughout the Bay Area with new “lifestyle” stores — which might include smoothie kiosks, outdoor seating, natural light, new floors, rooftop gardens and wider aisles — has not gone as smoothly as they no doubt hoped.

People who live near the Rockridge store — such as Fourth Street developer Denny Abrams whose home is on 63rd Street, and who spoke at the EIR hearing — are concerned that the small businesses on College, opposite the store, may suffer. One of them, Berkeley’s Chimes Pharmacy, opted for a buy-out last month.

And the sheer scale of the potential new store alarms some residents, both in terms of the competition it represents and the amount of extra cars and delivery trucks it may engender. Berkeley councilmember Laurie Capitelli told the Chronicle that size doesn’t always mean greater variety. “It could mean we get 60-foot aisles of soda pop, stacked four shelves high,” he said.

Meanwhile, Safeway spokeswoman Susan Houghton pointed out that more than 600 people have signed a petition in support of the new store. And she said: “There’s a lot of new competition out there, but we’ve been here a long time, and we look forward to being here a long time in the future.”

The Safeway on College website has details on the proposed new store.

Safeway buys Berkeley’s Chimes Pharmacy, to consolidate [07.12.11]
North Berkeley Safeway given green light to remodel [01.21.11]
New plans unveiled for Safeway store on Shattuck [07.27.10]
Safeway plans for Albany store meet resistance [05.28.10]
Adieu revolving pumpkin: Demise of Rockridge 76 [11.05.09]

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

    It seems to me that it is the proponents who want suburbia.  

    Generally, I walk to do my shopping in the neighborhood.  I do need to drive to other places, I like to park within hailing distance of my house and children and pets spend some time in our street.  So, creating a shopping center with chain stores a block away is not my idea of a good plan.

    The traffic problem is that traffic backs up into the College and Alcatraz intersection already.  Adding bicycles or skate boards to the mix is not going to help.

    To me, all of this points to an improved market with less access from College, not 8 more chain stores.  And frankly, if the Safeway closed, that is okay also.  Even if they do solicit me for a charitable donation each time I check out.

    I don’t see how Rebecca’s blog addresses any of these issues.

  • Charles_Siegel

    I should say  that I have mixed feelings about this project. 

    I like the fact that it makes the neighborhood more walkable by filling in a parking lot and instead having retail stores facing the sidewalk. 

    I don’t like the fact that it includes a corporate mega-store.  I myself never liked shopping at  the old Safeway on Shattuck and Rose, because even that felt too big for me, so I am sure I will not like the expanded Safeways; I myself haven’t shopped at Safeway for many years.  As I have said in other comments, having a large number of smaller stores (like Trader Joes) means that people travel a shorter distance to shop, so it generates less traffic and less energy consumption. 

    There are better ways of dealing with parking and traffic congestion.  On parking, Donald Shoup has come up with the best ideas, and they will be tried out in San Francisco by SFpark over the next year.  On congestion, there is talk about replacing Level Of Service standards with trip generation standards; rather than requiring developers to widen intersections to maintain the LOS, the new standards would require developers to pay a fee that will go to trip reduction, balancing the new trips they generate.

    The conventional suburban method of dealing with congestion is low densities and wide streets, and the conventional suburban method of dealing with parking shortages is to pave over most of the site to make it a parking lot.  Those methods are a failure: they create ugly, dangerous cities, and they are a major contributor to global warming. 

    That is why I get annoyed when I hear residents calling for more parking and for less development (= lower density) to fight congestion.

    If you really wanted to use that approach on College Ave, you would have to tear down two-thirds of the businesses there and replace them with parking lots.  Then you would reduce traffic enough to end congestion, you would have plenty of parking – and you would also have an ugly suburban strip mall instead of an attractive, walkable street. 

  • For people who are concerned about what stores Safeway will put in the retail spots, you should consider arguing for conditions of approval to the project that specify what types of uses would be allowed (and what wouldn’t be allowed).

  • Anonymous

    This area is already pretty high density.  This project will make it ridiculous density.  

    I really do not understand what you are saying.  This is not New York City or even San Francisco.  It is also not “suburbia.”  It is what it is, and the present Safeway plan will make it a less pleasant place to live.  

  • Max Allstadt

    Sorry. It’s just more than a little depressing.

    Here’s a neighborhood full of well educated white baby boomers, many of whom will tell you at length about their volunteerism and activism for good causes in the civil rights and vietnam war protest era.

    All that organizational ability, all that education, all that wealth, and all that good-hearted liberalism could be put to use pressuring this city to do something about it’s public safety crisis, the grotesque lack of transparency and accountability at City Hall, and unending fiscal irresponsibility and budget crises.

    So yeah. Maybe I’ll offend some people by calling this Safeway dispute out for being petty. So what. It is petty.

  • lauramenard

    Right on Max.

  • Pearl

    Max – pretty much everything we do in life is petty. Eating, walking our neighborhood, voting, writing our Congress, seeing friends, working at our meaningless jobs (if we’re lucky enough to have one)…What are you doing that rises above pettiness?  Putting down “liberals” for having an opinion about something in their neighborhood?  

  • Raised in Rockridge

    Safeway has stated a preference for national chain retailers.  Their real estate department does not deal with independently owned retail business in leased space.  Many have tried..none have succeeded.

    Quite apart from that, the retail condos will be expensive, and unaffordable to most small independent business people.  They most likely will be purchased by national chains or real estate speculators who will rent to national chains – no one else will be able to afford the rents.

    I would personally like to see the store seriously modified to give a face to the street.  It’s an awful building as it stands.  Yet, even today, Safeway still builds many stores that present these horrible blank walls to the pedestrian side – examples abound online, and it it a huge missed opportunity to engage the street and bring in shoppers. 

    I think that a modest expansion would be fine, but since Rockridge is not the suburbs, I think that should top out at 30,000 sq.ft.  Given that the current store is 22,000 sq.ft (Safeway’s figure of 25,000 is inaccurate according to their own PR from the store’s opening and an independent measurement of the exterior walls), that would amount to a nice addition in which to accomplish some of their stated goals.

    It’s a Safeway Lifestyle Store, a formula that is rather rigidly followed all over the country.  Their inflexibility may be why they are scrambling to maintain/regain market share that has been fast eroding to nimbler corporations.

  • Raised in Rockridge

    Ah, you took the easy path. 

    Those small businesses that grew came out of a unique environment that government cannot – or certainly has not – been able to create anywhere else in Oakland.  It is always a good thing when independents succeed, but there is also such as thing as outgrowing your incubator!  College Avenue nurtures its small stores (average size is only 1,200sq.ft. btw) and the little guys pay us back with personal service, interesting product selection and loyalty to Oakland.

    Safeway has a slew of abandoned (often blighted) stores all over Oakland – one here in Rockridge that was built in 1960 as the second coming…touted as loudly as this one is as a benefit for the community that would serve for decades.  It lasted 16 years and Safeway abandoned it.  It sits next to the DMV on Claremont, an unlovely sight, underused and often unoccupied over the years.  Then there’s the one on 40th Street at Telegraph (hideous building behind Import Motors), the one that sat empty for years on Broadway at 29th, now a Grocery Outlet and the (now) church at 27th and West at San Pablo.  Safeway “committed to all those locations too – all left when it suited their corporate purposes.  They also took their corporate HQ out of Oakland, firing 400 local employees in the process.  That’s why they are in Pleasanton. 

    It’s a multinational corporation that has no loyalty – just a profit line.  When it suits them, they’ll abandon whatever they need to to cut their losses.

    Interestingly, Safeway is almost alone among grocery purveyers in America in building these behemoths in urban neighborhoods.  Starting with Wal-Mart, which is pushing out a whole bunch of Wal-Mart Expresses (max. 30,000 sq.ft.) grocery chains in America are rushing to build in the sweet spot – 15,000 to 30,000 sq.ft.  And so is Safeway in many other regions of the US like Chicago, where they bought the Domenic’s chain specifically to get into that size of urban stores.  Could it be we have one retro executive in the Northern California Region?  You never know…

  • Raised in Rockridge

    Conditions of Use can only be placed on stores above the 5,000 sq.ft. CN-1 zoning limitation, or on stores requiring CUPs like ground floor office space or food uses.  The City of Oakland, unlike Berkeley and San Francisco,  has no mechanisms in place for placing limits on national chains.

    It is interesting to note that the store size on College Avenue was DOWN ZONED in April.  Under the old C-31 zoning, the maximum store size was 7,500 sq.ft. before a CUP was called for.  The change was no error – it followed much discussion and was a product of the General Plan adoption and implementation process that designates College Avenue as a Maintain and Enhance zone, not a Grow and Change zone.

  • Bruce Love

    You say:

    All that organizational ability, all that education, all that
    wealth, and all that good-hearted liberalism could be put to use
    pressuring this city to do something about it’s public safety crisis,

    Not unless you serve wine and invite some B+ circuit guests.

  • Anonymous


    Why am I not supposed to be concerned about the quality of life in my neighborhood? I think I can decide what issues I am interested in without your advice.  I don’t even understand your point.  Is it bad to have a point of view on the Safeway and to try to influence what happens?  I don’t hink I am required to share your priorities although I don’t think you have any idea what else I am interested in.  I notice your tweet calls those interested in this issue “assholes.”  Classy.

  • We’re not talking about flattening a complex of thriving local businesses to build a Safeway. We’re talking about replacing a Safeway that already exists with a nicer version of the same store that will be a better fit for the neighborhood.

    The business condos are an issue that I think deserve to be discussed at length and that Safeway should be forced to make some major concessions about (such as setting aside at least a certain number solely for locally owned businesses) but most of what you’re discussing here doesn’t really apply since Safeway is already in the neighborhood and is simply improving an already existing store.

  • We’re not talking about flattening a complex of thriving local businesses to build a Safeway. We’re talking about replacing a Safeway that already exists with a nicer version of the same store that will be a better fit for the neighborhood.

    The business condos are an issue that I think deserve to be discussed at length and that Safeway should be forced to make some major concessions about (such as setting aside at least a certain number solely for locally owned businesses) but most of what you’re discussing here doesn’t really apply since Safeway is already in the neighborhood and is simply improving an already existing store.

  • These lifestyle stores are also nice if you don’t have the money to shop at the fancy ultra-premium shops that make up most of the Rockridge neighborhood. Let’s not kid ourselves here, most of the shops you’re talking about in Rockridge are extremely expensive, and are outside the purchasing power of the average Oakland resident, not to mention the amount of time and energy it takes to visit a half-dozen specialty shops instead of one supermarket.

    The building currently on that site is ugly, poorly constructed, and no amount of “light remodeling” will change that building enough for it to be a good fit for the neighborhood.

    People keep complaining about the “cookie cutter” nature of Safeway stores, but what about Whole Foods? Their stores are also all “cookie cutter” affairs that ignore “what the neighborhoods actually need and want” yet I can’t remember ever seeing protests of this kind against a Whole Foods market going into a neighborhood.

    A lot of the complaints about this store reek of elitism. It’s fine if
    you don’t like Safeway and don’t shop there. I don’t shop at Safeway
    either. But clearly someone does or they wouldn’t want to invest a bunch
    of money into improving the store.

  • The corner is in Oakland. Not Berkeley.

  • You should band together with other opponents and make specific demands. Either demand that they get rid of the additional retail spaces and retain the parking lot, or demand that the spaces be rented out with a preference toward mall local businesses.

    Instead of just making blanket statements about how Safeway is awful and you hope they leave, work together as a group to make specific and implementable demands in one or two key areas.

    If you work together and represent yourself as a group of concerned area residents who have specific demands that they can actually meet, they’ll be much more likely to pay attention to you than they will if you come at them with comments about how you hope they shut down and their business isn’t right for the neighborhood because it doesn’t fit into your upper-middle-class lifestyle.

  • A ground-level parking lot and run-down example of horrible architecture from the 1960s make Rockridge a pleasant place to live?

    If Safeway leaves, whoever buys the lot will probably want to make it even higher density than the Safeway plan calls for. Probably something more akin to the Trader Joe’s building on the corner of University & MLK, with several stories of small apartments perched on top of ground-level retail.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks for the advice.  Except, if it is okay, I will express my opinions and not yours.  

  • I was giving you suggestions on how to present your opinion that you think the possible chain stores that could fill those spaces will “destroy the charm of the area” but of course you are free to ignore good advice if you wish. It’s a free country, after al! :)

  • Charles_Siegel

    If you like ugly surface parking lots, this project will make the neighborhood a less pleasant place to live.  If you like walkable neighborhoods, this project will make it a more pleasant place to live.

    Yes, this neighborhood is not suburbia, which is why the current Safeway store doesn’t belong here.  When it was built, it was an intrusion that was totally out of character with the existing neighborhood.  If someone proposed demolishing a row of existing storefronts on College Ave and building a store with a big surface parking lot, would you support that? 

    The proposed store is much more in keeping with the historic character of the neighborhood, since it has storefronts facing the sidewalk, as the rest of the street does.

    It would be interesting to research what was on the site before the Safeway was built.  I expect you would find that the original structures on the site were similar to the other buildings on College Ave – which means they were higher density than the Safeway that is there now.

    Saying that the “neighborhood is what it is” is a meaningless statement that can be used to argue against any change. 

  • Anonymous

    OK.  We disagree.  Only difference is I live here and apparently you don’t.  

    The Safeway spokesperson says the store will become a destination.  They are likely to have a Starbucks, Subway etc.  Elmwood did well to fight the chains in the 90s which is why that neighborhood is what it is.  Why shouldn’t Oakland have the same type of environment?

  • Charles_Siegel

    “Only difference is I live here and apparently you don’t.”

    That is not the only difference.

  • Anonymous


  • Rockridge

    It’s easy to be critical of the activism of others while sitting on your butt at your computer.  I support local activism at any level, for any non-offensive cause.  I support the rockridge community and their struggle to decrease the expansion of big box stores.  As for you boys, it seems like those with “priority” issues are the ones without a community or cause worth fighting for.  And last time I checked, activists didn’t need to get your stamp of approval before caring about something.