Update, 5:23 p.m.: Via Stuart Flashman, ”After another five hours of negotiating today (following up on two hours over the weekend) the agreement has been finalized. The RCPC Board (which has been primed for a vote since Friday) promptly approved the agreement by electronic vote. The other two groups (FANS and BPOD) will be voting tonight, but the community negotiators are unanimously recommending approval.”
Original story, 2:15 p.m.
With what may be the final major approvals for a new Safeway store on College Avenue set to take place Tuesday night before the Oakland City Council, residents came together for an update late last week.
About 60 community members attended a session Thursday night run by several mediators who have, along with Oakland Councilwoman Jane Brunner, helped broker a deal to get Safeway to respond to neighborhood concerns and bring negotiations to a close so the project can move forward after seven years in development.
Residents learned about the key points of the mediation agreement, which had not yet been signed as of Thursday, and had the chance to ask questions about the process. (See the meeting presentation here for an overview.)
The main changes in the agreement include reducing the size of the Safeway; bringing it down to street level (from a proposed second-floor design); reducing the amount, and setting limitations on the type, of other retail on site; requiring Safeway to provide enough parking for the new development; and getting Safeway to agree to pay for parking permits in perpetuity for nearby residents. (See the staff report for Tuesday’s meeting.)
While residents in attendance said they were grateful for the time donated by community mediators — who came from the Rockridge Community Planning Council, Friends and Neighbors of College Avenue and Berkeleyans for Pedestrian Oriented Development — many said they weren’t satisfied with the deal.
Residents peppered presenters with questions throughout the meeting, which lasted for about two hours.
Concerns about store size, traffic problems, construction impacts on surrounding businesses and safety were among the main issues raised.
One attendee asked why Safeway hadn’t been willing to reduce the size of the store even more, despite repeated and emphatic community requests.
“Safeway is going to be exactly double what it is today. Why has Safeway taken a much harder position with us than they did with the Lakeshore neighbors?” the attendee asked Stuart Flashman, a land-use attorney and chairman of the land-use committee for the Rockridge Community Planning Council, who was one participant in the mediation.
“Because the Lakeshore people got what they wanted,” answered Flashman. “That was a real problem. Safeway is not going to make that mistake again. They wish they hadn’t done it and they aren’t going to do it anymore.”
Another attendee said he saw the “real Achilles heel” in the project as the intersection of 63rd Street and College Avenue, noting “a lot of traffic movement” and the potential for huge back-ups. The intersection is set to include two crosswalks and a three- to four-foot “bulb out” to make it more pedestrian friendly. The street will not lead directly to the parking lot, as it does now, but drivers instead will have to turn left to access a ramp to a rooftop garage above the Safeway store.
Mediators said traffic mitigations in Berkeley, involving timing the lights to coordinate signals where both Alcatraz and Claremont avenues meet College, for example, will make a big difference in area circulation.
Several participants in Thursday’s discussion raised concerns about a stretch of unbroken building mass, roughly 500 feet, on Claremont approaching College. Safeway initially had windows in the plans, then took them out; mediators said they were trying to bring them back. Residents said they were worried about safety there, due to a lack of “eyes on the street.” Mediators said they, too, were troubled by the stretch, and were still “struggling” with Safeway about that aspect of the design.
Mediators credited extensive community participation, including donations to the Rockridge Legal Defense Fund, petition collections and demonstrations by neighbors, with helping to get concessions.
One attendee asked why, after all this time, Safeway had finally been willing to listen.
“I think the reason why is that we would sue them,” said attorney Zachary Walton, one of the negotiators. “You can sue and ultimately lose, but you can still cause problems for a project. That was our leverage and that’s why they were willing to take us seriously.”
Walton said, too, that mediators were in agreement that now is the time to move the project forward, “because, in the new year, we lose Jane Brunner. The reality is that her role in the mediation has been instrumental. This wouldn’t happen without her involvement.” (Brunner’s term on the council is about to end.)
Walton credited Safeway with being “a good negotiating partner.”
“They weren’t before, but they’ve been a good faith participant now,” he said.
One resident said she was worried that Safeway would “do major value engineering, cutting everything worth anything” out of the development to save money. Mediators said they were sensitive to that issue and were working to hold the company to high standards.
Throughout the meeting, residents grumbled that the project continued to be “a pretty bad fit” for the neighborhood, described the process as “depressing” and asked if the deal might still fall through.
Mediators said they commiserated with community concerns.
“It’s not what we want but, on the other hand, we feel it’s the best deal we could get,” said Flashman. “If we had pushed as hard as we could for a 30,000-square-foot store, we’d be in litigation, that’s where we’d be right now. We might not get anything at all out of that. We might just lose.”
Mediators said, as of Thursday, they were still working on several aspects of the settlement agreement, and that they planned to sign it either prior to Tuesday’s meeting or at the meeting. They said part of the deal involved creating a way for mediators to continue to give feedback moving forward, particularly if changes arise with construction plans.
If the project is approved, mediators said Safeway would like to begin construction in October 2013; construction is projected to last about a year.
The Oakland City Council meeting takes place Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 5:30 p.m., at 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza in the council chambers in Oakland. According to a community email, the Safeway appeal is set to be heard around 6:30 p.m., but that could change if the agenda is revised.
Safeway on College needs all-new design after mediation [11.15.12]
Breaking: Neighbors, Safeway agree on College Ave. store [11.13.12]
Op-Ed: Why I support plans for the Safeway on College [11.12.12]
Revamped Safeway opens in heart of Gourmet Ghetto [10.05.12]
Oakland Planning Commission approves Safeway plans [07.27.12]
Berkeley Council unites in opposing Safeway project [07.18.12]
Berkeley City Council to hold hearing on Safeway project [09.20.11]
Locals protest scale, traffic of proposed Rockridge Safeway [08.01.11]
Safeway buys Berkeley’s Chimes Pharmacy, to consolidate [07.12.11]
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