Berkeley Council unites in opposing Safeway project

Safeway wants to tear down the 1950s building and build a new structure that is double the size. The proposed project would be two to three stories high with an underground garage, and would have a set of retail shops facing College Avenue. Rendering: Lowney Architecture

A ten-year-old girl who lives on Lewiston Avenue was among more than 20 people who stood up to voice their opposition to Safeway’s plans to expand its Claremont-College Avenue store at Tuesday night’s Berkeley City Council meeting. “It will ruin my neighborhood and community and cause traffic chaos,” she said. “It’s already wiped out cute stores like Chimes Pharmacy.”

She and the other member of the public who object to the scale of the proposed store and its potential impact on local traffic and air pollution needn’t have worried. Berkeley’s leaders are unanimous in their disapproval of the grocery giant’s plans for a store which is sited in Oakland, a hair’s breadth from the Berkeley border. They have little power to stop it, however.

At issue last night was whether the Council would approve accepting funds from Safeway in order to mitigate the project’s impact on traffic in Berkeley. Safeway would pay for the installation of new traffic signals and reconfigure street lanes. Several members of the community felt that agreeing such a contract with Safeway would be tantamount to giving tacit approval to the project which has yet to be approved by Oakland (a planning commission hearing on the subject is slated for July 25).

Michael Barrett, who lives immediately behind the Claremont-College Avenue Safeway (“I’m not a Nimby, Safeway is already in my backyard”) said that by standing firm, Berkeley should be able to substantially influence the course of the project.

Speaking on behalf of Safeway, Matt Francois of Sedgwick Law said the grocery store could go ahead  with its plans with or without the Berkeley mitigation agreement. By approving it, he said, the Council would be ensuring “Berkeley was not left holding the bag.”

After hearing public comment and discussing the issue, the Council decided that it would reiterate its opposition to Safeway’s plans by resending a letter that it delivered to the store last October outlining the reasons it disapproved of the proposal.

For more information, read the city’s documentation on the proposed mitigation agreement with Safeway and Safeway’s College Avenue website.

Other City Council decisions:

Sunday Streets: Council fully supported Sunday Streets Berkeley — see our May 11 article for details — and councilmembers each contributed money to the project from their discretionary funds. Mayor Bates has contributed $4,000 towards Sunday Streets which will take place on October 14, 11-4pm. Many commercial sponsors have signed up, including PG&E and John Gordon Commercial Real Estate Services, said co-organiser Amy Kiser from the Ecology Center Erin Rhoades from Livable Berkeley, so they are now half way towards their fundraising goal.

West Berkeley: Council approved putting West Berkeley Project on the November ballot, with councilmembers Max Anderson, Jesse Arreguín and Kriss Worthington voting against. Read our extensive coverage of the West Berkeley Project.

Procedure on Public Comments: Council voted to amend rules so those yielding time during public comments must stand and be recognized by the Mayor. Related to this, Council also voted to allow priority front row seating for the disabled.

P-Bid districts: Council confirmed annual reports and assessments for the Telegraph, Downtown, Elmwood and North Shattuck business districts.

Sale of backyard produce: Council adopted the first reading of an ordinance that would allow people to sell non-processed edibles grown or raised on residential lots. (See our May 17 story for details.)

Streets and Watershed: Council placed the $30 million streets and related watershed improvements bond on the November ballot. (See our June 27 story for more details.)

Berkeley City Council to hold hearing on Safeway project [09.2011]
Locals protest scale, traffic of proposed Rockridge Safeway [08.01.11]
Safeway buys Berkeley’s Chimes Pharmacy, to consolidate [07.12.11]
North Berkeley Safeway given green light to remodel [0121.11]
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]

Berkeleyside publishes many articles every day. To see all our stories in chronological order, and read ones you may have missed, check out our All the News grid.

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  • sky

    I support these people, but  I would like to pint out that a headline of “Berkeley Unites” for 20 people, when the 100’s of Berkeley residents who are opposing the sitting ordinance at council meetings are seen as a tiny minority, is contradictory to say the least.

  • Sky: You’re right. I slipped up on the headline and have changed it. Thanks for pointing that out.

  • Shannon A.

    I am increasingly disgusted by our city council and their support of NIMBYism. I use that Safeway and my life would be improved by it being a larger, nicer store.

  • gimpylee

    I don’t see what the big deal is. Yeah it will be inconvenient during construction, but the neighborhood will have a more modern building, thus improving the look and thus attracting local business.  Enjoy your new Safeway NIMBYs.

  • Linda A.

    I’m not sure why people are in opposition to public health. Grocery stores are not the enemy! Even large chains like Safeway. I’m pretty sure the “cute” pharmacy didn’t sell fresh produce. And better space planning has the potential to improve the flow of traffic in that area. Certainly it can’t get much worse than it is now.

  • Doran Andrew

    I’m totally confused how a better store would adversely affect traffic. If Berkeley wanted to do something, they should insist on the parking garage being public, for use by patrons of ALL the businesses in that little neighborhood. That would actually reduce the traffic in the area, as currently there is basically nowhere to park and we all circle around through the adjoining residential neighborhoods.

  • Biker 94703

    The back story is that Safeway wants to have a larger bakery, meat counter, florist, etc and at least some neighbors are concerned this will negatively impact the existing small businesses (bakery, butcher, florist, etc) across the street.

    I’m not sure there is any data to suggest that the improved “look” of a grocery story attracts local business, but there is plenty to suggest that competition might negatively impact it.  I like the suggestion Doran Andrew makes that the parking lot be public: parking around there is terrible and perhaps easier parking would help the small businesses as well.

  •  Thanks for listing the decisions the council made. But we have to know: did anyone, audience or councilmember, break into song?

  • Andrew

    Make it a Berkeley Bowl South and it might get approved. 

  • Albanyan

     But only if it’s unionized…

  • Charles_Siegel

    If the boundary between Berkeley and Oakland was in a slightly different location, so this was in Berkeley, wouldn’t the council have supported it to get the sales tax?

    If the boundary was in a slightly
    different location, so the Berkeley Bowl West was in Emeryville, would the council have opposed it because of its impacts on traffic?

    Maybe I am getting too cynical, but it is beginning to seem to me that the city’s talk about impacts is just a cover, and the city is actually following the golden rule: if you give us gold, then you can make the rules.

  • Completely_Serious

     Yeah, like in 10 years.

  • sky

     thanks: that makes more sense now.

  • Completely_Serious

    “wiped out Chimes.”  We’ve been patrons of Chimes for years.  John, the owner sold the pharmacy to Safeway, and he’s still there daily, filling prescriptions.  In the letter he sent to customers after he sold, he said he was looking forward to being a pharmacist again, instead of a small businessman.

    Now, it may be that Safeway made him an offer he couldn’t refuse, such as, “We’re going to crush your little impetuous independent pharmacy when we finally remodel and put in our huge, computerized Safeway style pharmacy.  So why don’t you just sign this here paper, see, and no one gets hurt.”

    We don’t know. It’s not our business.  It was a transaction between two businesses.

    Now, as to Yasai and the flowers and Ver Brugge and La Farine, it’s a lot like the abortion bumper sticker:  If you’re against Safeway, don’t shop there.  If you’re in favor of Yasai, etc., then get your toilet paper at Safeway and your chard at Yasai.  Simple.

    But things will change, and I’m tired of a small bunch of people trying to tell others in Berkeley what they can and cannot do.

    Where will all this traffic come from, that isn’t there already?

    Berkeley, the most nostalgic place on earth.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    For the record, when the use permit for Berkeley Bowl West was on the council’s agenda, the grocery workers’ union asked Tom Bates and his buddies not to give Bowl owner Glen Yasuda–well-known for his virulent anti-unionism–the huge favors he’d requested (such as changing the zoning, thereby granting him a multi-million dollar windfall) unless he, Yasuda, agreed to a card check election over union representation at the new store. 

    The mayor told the union rep not to come to the council meeting–an instruction that was ignored, but to no avail.At the council meeting, the city attorney stated that the council could not legally require a property owner to defer the union’s card check election appeal. That was and is true.But what the city attorney failed to state is that the council was not legally required to give Yasuda any zoning favors.In other words, this was one moment when a back room deal would have been order. Bates should have said to Yasuda: In return for all the zoning gifts you’re demanding, we want you to agree to a card check election at Berkeley Bowl West.The mayor’s dismissal of the grocery workers’ union makes an interesting contrast with his deference to the city of Berkeley employee unions and associations.

  • Chris

    The important question is what happens if/when Oakland approves of this project? Will our opposition to the plan mean we forfeit Safeway $$ for traffic mitigation???

  • Charles_Siegel

     “Berkeley, the most nostalgic place on earth.”

    It is interesting that, before 1920, the word “nostalgia” was used to refer to a medical condition found in soldiers who wanted to return to home.   It was first used in 1920 in its current sense, a generalized longing for the past.

    My own theory is that it became popular in its current sense because the modernist movement, very influential in the early twentieth century, needed a term to criticize people who resisted the modern economy, modern architecture, and so on. 

    If you look at the writing of that time, you will see that modernists were willing to use the most wildly utopian models from the future, but criticized anyone who used any model from the past.  The best known is the communist ideal of the early 20th century, with its belief that industrialization would bring utopia, but similar ideas were widespread in literature, art, and architecture. 

    Now, to me, it seems obvious that we should choose which models to use on a case-by-case basis, thinking about which does the most to enhance our well-being in each case – rather than automatically rejecting the past in favor of “progress” or automatically rejecting the future in favor of tradition.  And we obviously shouldn’t let an empty catchphrase like “nostalgia” stop us from thinking about which model is best.

    Do you agree, Mr. Serious?

  • Alina

    I was trying to figure that out, too.  I understand the Council is against the project and “decided that it would reiterate its opposition to Safeway’s plans by resending a letter that it delivered to the store last October outlining the reasons it disapproved of the proposal.” 
    But how about the proposal to accept money from Safeway for traffic mitigation? Did they actually vote on that? The article is not clear to me.  And if they voted it down, what will happen if the project goes through?  Will we just put up with the traffic with no mitigation?  Or will we implement mitigation measures out of Berkeley money? Is there a chance to reconsider once Oakland decides ‘yay’ or ‘nay’ on the project?

  • Guest

    The likelihood that this (or any other) city council would actually put principle (especially a sybolic one) ahead of a cash payoff/payola is slim to none.  So don’t have any doubts!

  • The Sharkey

    Boy, the City Council is going to look really, really stupid of Oakland approves this project and Safeway withdraws their offer to pay for traffic mitigation since the Council refused it.

    If we’ve got enough cash lying around to pay for this kind of stuff that we can just tell folks who offer us money to take a hike, why do we need to put a $30 million bond measure on the ballot to pay for things that should have been taken care of out of the general fund?

  • The Sharkey

    I don’t think it’s cynicism so much as realism.

  • The Sharkey

    If the bakery, meat counter, florist, etc are able to offer higher quality goods than Safeway, they shouldn’t have any trouble. Look at all the small shops that are thriving in the Gourmet Ghetto right down the street from the Safeway on Shattuck.

  • Chris

     Now there you go being all rational…

  • Chris

     I don’t care for likelihoods. I want facts.

  • Chris

     It seems that would be the case, but it is not clear from the article.

  • Charles_Siegel

    That Safeway on Shattuck is undergoing a similar renovation, and we have yet to see what effect its bakery, etc. will have on the existing stores there. 

    I suspect Safeway will not be able to compete.

  • John Holland

    Personally, I’m opposed to the upgrade, but Sharkey is right on this point. I believe a new store would attract more shoppers to the neighborhood, and the shops on College would benefit from the traffic.

  • Such are city politics in the Mad Hatter tea party that is the City Council.

    I consider myself lucky. It only took several years for Berkeley Bowl to be approved in West Berkeley so residents over here would have a decent grocery store instead of corner liquor stores selling booze and junk food.

    Funny thing about this stuff Shannon, the people protesting loudly today will be the same people shopping in the new Safeway tomorrow. We saw it with Berkeley Bowl West & you’ll see it with this Safeway. It’s amazing how quickly these protesters turn tail and start patronizing the very business they fight against in the first place. It really makes you wonder about them…

  • David D.

    Great, so the Berkeley City Council listened to 20 NIMBYs and is willing to forfeit money for traffic impact mitigations. Let’s hope that every one of our elected representatives–and the 20 NIMBYs at the meeting–cough up the money to fund the improvements that Safeway would have paid for. Traffic in the area is already bad; there is no way a larger grocery store could make things much worse.

    Listen: If you don’t want local businesses to go out of business, patronize them. Let everyone else make their own decisions. Funny how a progressive ideal like “live and let live” lasts only as long as there are no supposed personal impacts. Berkeley is full of hypocrites that are mucking things up for the rest of us.

  • Make it a Berkeley Bowl South and you’ll get years of bickering over how the sky will fall, fissures will open up in the neighborhood & general devastation of the community as a whole will ensure. — I think that is a good tongue in cheek summary of what Berkeley Bowl West had to cope with.

    Fortunately now West Berkeley residents have a decent grocery store to shop at instead of just sleazy liquor stores selling booze and junk food.

    Watch closely, the people protesting the Safeway expansion today will be shopping at it when construction is complete. Just like we’ve seen on a regular basis at Berkeley Bowl. I’m sure when Glen Yasuda thinks about that irony it ticks him off.

  • Fixthestreets

    “It will ruin my neighborhood and community and cause traffic chaos,” she said. “It’s already wiped out cute stores like Chimes Pharmacy.”

    Does anyone seriously believe that a ten-year old (boy or girl) can reliably predict what will “run [a] neighborhood and cause traffic chaos” ?  Why is this the lede?

  • Fixthestreets

    sorry:  ruin not run a neighborhood!

  • Tor

    Weird that you would fail to mention that Yasuda did agree to card check at Berkeley Bowl West. And that UFCW said one of the reasons he did was the 2006 council resolution that Bates passed calling on Yasuda to agree to card check elections at Berkeley Bowl West. And that the reason Berkeley Bowl West is non-union is that the employees voted down the union in those elections.

    Given those fairly salient facts, it seems like you’re criticizing the mayor for not illegally pressuring a local business owner in pursuit of a goal that happened anyway. 

    Don’t you have any other axes to grind?

  • Zjb1731

    I was responding to Albanyan’s comment about that if a Berkeley Bowl South were unionized, the council would support it. Bates’ anti-union position on Berkeley Bowl West suggests otherwise. 

    “Calling on Yasuda to agree to card check elections” at the council was sheer grandstanding on Bates’ part, as he well knew.

     It would be perfectly legal for the mayor to have negotiated card check as a condition of giving Yasuda the big favors he was requesting, even though card check could not be tied to zoning law. Again, the council was not legally required to grant those favors, yet it did, without demanding the slightest concessions from the BowlWhat Yasuda and the union did after BBW got its sweet use permit is beside the point here, which is about Bates and the council’s attitude toward grocery workers’ unions when it comes to land use in Berkeley.

  • Alan_Tobey

    Since the pending decision is just a preliminary approval by the planning commission, which could reject or modify the project, Mayor Bates said we should see what actually makes its way toward the Oakland council (on an inevitable appeal)  before cutting any deals.  That sounds pragmatic.

  • Tor

    “Bates’ anti-union position on Berkeley Bowl West,” for which, according to your reporting, he was congratulated by the United Food and Commercial Workers’ Local 5:

    Your tortured point is completely refuted by the simple facts that the council endorsed unionization and that card check happened.

    Plus, you have a bizarre understanding of “legal.” I’m glad you’re not mayor.

  • Zelda Bronstein

    The article you cite is dated 2009–three years after the council decision on the West Berkeley Bowl permit and Bates’ refusal to intervene on behalf of the union.

  • grad student

    Using a 10 year old girl as a prop in the meeting to plead your case? Really? Because 10 year olds are very concerned about issues such as community well-being and neighborhood traffic flow. The parents that put her up to this are dolts. 

  • Guest

    Presumably, because it aptly captures the fatuousness of these NIMBYs.

  • Guest

    As I suggested aboved, this is just symbolic posturing for now which is what the council and the mayor predominantly engage in.

    When the time comes to “cut a deal”, the mayor or his henchmen will collect a stuffed paper (but not plastic!) bag on the Oakland/Berkeley border late at night.

  • JEllis

    And why is the Berkeley City Council so concerned with traffic and pollution in Oakland when a majority of them, including Bates, are totally in favor of putting up projects that will make traffic insufferable, parking impossible, and air pollution from cars greater for the residents of West Berkeley. Aren’t we yuppie enough for them to care?

  • berkopinionator

    Large modern seismically secure buildings full of food are good to have when you live on the Hayward Fault.

  • Tor

    I think what you meant to say was three years after Bates and the Council passed a resolution in support of the union. You wrote that article in 2009 after UFCW was successful in persuading Berkeley Bowl management to agree to card check elections, a success that the union partly credited to the council’s support of the union’s goals.

    Sorry, Zelda, but it’s just weird that you would try to mischaracterize Bates on the issue of organized labor, in particular. The guy has 35-year political career, and the best you could come up with was a wild misrepresentation of what happened at the Bowl four years ago? Is that maybe because the rest of Bates’ record on labor reads like, “Teamsters Local 70 endorses Bates….,”  “SEIU endorses Bates…,” “former Labor Secretary Reich endorses Bates…,” etc.

    How did you do with the union vote when you ran for Mayor? 

  • Zelda Bronstein

    Yes, the Alameda Central Labor Council endorsed Tom in 2006, even though at the endorsement meeting, the UFCW rep and I both pointed out that Bates had opposed the union’s efforts to get card check as a condition of the council’s approving the use permit for Berkeley Bowl West. That same union rep told me that he was shocked by Bates’ position at the Bowl; this was not the guy he’d known in Sacramento.

    SEIU’s endorsement of Bates is easy to understand: Bates and the rest of the council have rolled over for the city employee unions for years (as did Bates’ predecessor in office), which is one reason why the city now faces multi-million dollar structural budget deficits.  See Auditor Hogan’s Nov. 2010 report on employee benefits.

    Robert Reich? Hardly a defender of unions or  U.S. workers. When he was secretary of labor, he supported NAFTA–and he still does.

    Organized labor’s pandering to incumbent Democrats who do little for working people is a sad story and helps to explain the decline of unions in this country.

  • The Sharkey

    Why are you opposed to the upgrade? Have you been inside this Safeway? Have you been inside renovated Safeways?

    The current building is gross and outdated. The newer style of Safeway stores would fit the neighborhood better.

    I don’t shop at Safeway, because I find local stores to sell better products, but I see no reason to block their attempts at improving their stores just because I don’t personally like what they offer.

  • John Holland

    “The Sharkey” asked:

    “Why are you opposed to the upgrade?”

    Pure, selfish nimby-ism. If you were paying attention when bgal4 took on a bizarre obsession with my twitter stream, I live and work near the store. Like you, I rarely shop at Safeway, so it’s of no benefit to me, and I’m not looking forward to the construction noise and congestion.

    Also, the edifice will block the view of the Berkeley hills that I enjoy so much on a daily basis. That block of College Ave. will be darker and less open, and the store will dominate the surroundings. To what end… a greater selection of gatorade?

    If they had kept the design at one story and put the parking garage underground, I would have been much more open to the upgrade.

    Finally, Safeway must think we’re stupid. To promote the project, they keep saying that the new store will have…

    …a bakery, but we already have La Farine,
    …a butcher shop, but we already have Ver Brugge,
    …a florist, but we already have The Meadows
    …a pharmacy, but we already had Chimes (congratulations to John, though. he is a great guy.)

    And, my guess is a Starbucks will be going in, too, but they’re smart enough not to reveal that.

  • Eastbayopine

     The issue has NEVER been about Safeway remodeling and freshening up the appearance. It is about the SCALE of the project. Once built, it will have IRREVERSABLE impact on the surrounding neighborhood. This is NOT about NIMBY neighbors who are against progress – this is about sensible development that fits with pre-existing traffic congestion….Safeway should renovate the space and increase the footage slightly, but the scope of what they are planning raises SERIOUS concerns…

  • deirdre

     Councilmember Worthington revealed to a shocked citizenry that the new Safeway will be replacing the deli aisle with a pool table.

  • DC

    This project is in OAKLAND.  Why is our city council wasting time on this, when they have work to do in our own city and no authority of it in any way?  

    What a massive waste of time just for political posturing.  Does our city council actually do anything useful?  Like fixing the increasing degraded and dangerous pavement on my street?