Fighting God. Or, you know, the supermarket.

If you couldn’t make it to the Claremont Hotel for the Safeway meeting Wednesday night, I encourage you to head over to Living in the O, where Becks has posted a recap of the meeting.

Overall, I thought the new design was well received, which is good – it’s much nicer than the old one. Here’s what they had to offer last June.

And here’s what we saw on Wednesday.

I think that little roof patio is nice, although if it were all up to me, I think it would look better for the intersection if there was more building on the corner, something taller to anchor the intersection. But I imagine the neighbors would probably object to that too much.

More renderings at Lowney Architecture and Living in the O. And you can read the Berkeley Daily Planet’s expectedly annoying take on it here.

I tried to write down some of the nuttiest comments I overheard at the meeting, all these people who apparently love having a giant surface parking lot in the middle of their otherwise lovely neighborhood and are dead set against any change, no matter what. Becks definitely got better ones (“It’s like fighting God”), but to give you an idea of what Safeway’s up against:

  • It looks like an auto showroom.

  • It’s like they’re putting in a shopping mall. This reminds me of the shopping mall district in Walnut Creek.

  • It just makes me want to throw up.

  • Q: Are there any people at all in the community that believe we need more grocery store? A: No, there aren’t. None.

There was also a woman talking about how she’s lived in Rockridge forever, since way back when it was the highest crime neighborhood in all of Oakland (which, honestly, I find kind of hard to believe). She seemed to be under the impression that an expanded Safeway would return the neighborhood to that. Weird.

57 thoughts on “Fighting God. Or, you know, the supermarket.

  1. VivekB

    I live pretty near there, I think the new plan looks really nice. A few other Rockridge’ans also said so on the forums. Unfortunately the damn nutty NIMBY’s are drowning us out. If left up to them, Safeway will do something god awful, like don’t do a damn thing to the existing F-UGLY store & parking lot and go build in Jack London Square instead.

    Well, godawful for me, i’m sure the JL’ers would love that :-)

  2. Ralph

    the comments regarding crime sound like the arguments some make for why they do not want a BART station in their neighborhood.

  3. OnTheGoJo/Joanna

    hamachi – huh?

    I’m a JLD’er (the “Square” is a retail development, the “District” is the area which includes the Square and more). I’m for the new Safeway on College. And hey, if they don’t want it, we’ll take it! I’m sure we can find a spot for it…. how about at 4th & Broadway in what used to a nightclub and is now a dilapidated building? ;)

  4. hamachi

    I was just being a smart ass. I think the new plan looks nice and if it works out I’m sure I’ll swing by.

    I have fears that the JLS market hall will never actually be as great as the marketing fluff has led us to believe. I have hope of course, and the building itself is lovely.. but I still have lingering doubts.

  5. Andy K

    Anyone who wants to keep the old store either doesn’t shop there or has never shopped anywhere else. Currently, the store is way too small and overcrowded.

    The new plan looks great.

  6. Frankie D

    How bout we swap out the Safeway in Montclair for that one, we’ll take it in a heartbeat.

  7. dbackman

    Nice design. It really fills out the block in a positive way. Lowney does some strong work and is rapidly becoming the premier supermarket architect in California, whatever that means. They did the Lake Merritt Whole Foods, which is a great store.
    So at this point, to what extent can the neighbors impact or prevent this development?

  8. V Smoothe Post author

    If I recall correctly, they said at the meeting that they would be submitting their application to the City at the end of next week.

    The project will have to be approved by the Planning Commission. I’m sure the anti-Safeway people will pack those meetings demanding for it to be rejected. If the Planning Commission approves the project, they can then appeal the approval to the City Council.

    A woman at the meeting was telling people to contact the Mayor about it, though I can’t imagine why.

  9. Robert

    The architecture does look much nicer now. As an outsider to the neighborhood I would think that it would be much better to get that driveway off College, and have the only entrance on Claremont. College is hard enough to drive down now without an entrance to a parking garage dumping into the street.

  10. dbackman

    True. But the stoplight at College and Claremont is the longest oI know of in Oakland. People will get impatient if they have to turn onto Claremont in order to access the lot.

  11. Justin

    I think it’s not just NIMBY’s, but it’s the closet classist/racist thinking that is embedded in all this. The idea that an expanded, nicer grocery store will somehow bring more crime implies that “criminals” shop at Safeway – read: less affluent, probably black, etc. It’s a shame that people go on the record with statements like this. That Safeway is an eyesore honestly and I’ll be stoked to see the place ditch the strip-mall atmosphere.

  12. dbackman

    The intensity of the NIMBY crowd in the East Bay really gets to me. Having come to the area to study and now practice architecture, I am continuously frustrated by people’s opposition to any construction that is new or different. We are supposed to be the most progressive community in the country, yet we have a surprisingly conservative building culture that seems afraid to innovate. People want “change,” but only as long as it doesn’t affect their own neighborhood. Yes,a lot of travesties have been perpetrated by developers/cities/architects/planners in the past. Community forums are a great check on the stupid or unfair or outlandish proposals that come across the plate. But the purpose of these forums should be to make the projects better, not to just mindlessly oppose them.

  13. gem s.

    My favorite line from the Daily Planet article: ‘ (Denny) Abrams said most neighbors would like to see the existing market renovated, but didn’t want Safeway to turn it into a “$100 million vacuum cleaner” to suck money out of the local community. ‘ Pearls of wisdom from the developer of Berkeley’s Fourth Street 100 Million Vacuum Cleaner.

    The argument to keep Safeway small and crappy so that people don’t spend their money there is ludicrous. Does he really believe Safeway is a competitor for VerBrugge and Yasai Market patrons? No one was struggling when Albertson’s and Safeway both operated, so that seems unreasonable.

  14. OnTheGoJo/Joanna

    Justin – that’s a bizarre argument in my opinion! Has that been the case with Whole Foods? The new Lucky? The new Trader Joe’s? If anything, it seems to me that newer would mean better cameras hidden; better lighting; better layout design.

    dbackman – I was labeled a NIMBY in the past. I have tried to stay involved in what’s going on in my neighborhood. I’m not against change, but so many times it seems that if a local resident has ANYTHING to say, they are automatically labeled a “NIMBY” and ignored (imho). It’s frustrating when developer teams get so defensive when often we’re really trying to protect our own investments and make sure they don’t build the completely wrong thing. I’d like to think that the last two or three developments that the neighborhood was more included in the process were significantly better projects. The new parking garage that is part of JLS is a great example. The original plan was for a 12-story building (I think) and it was just a bunch of slabs of concrete. I still remember Claudia Cappio asking why anyone would care about the design of a parking garage. Well, in the end we have a space that might be worthy of a grocery store; we have character to a building that was originally quite ugly/boring; and we got it down to 8 stories. It’s within the Historic Waterfront Warehouse District next to residential condo and loft buildings – that’s why we felt it should be something more. I still say it’s in the wrong place, but it’s not as bad as it could have been had “NIMBY’s” not been involved.

  15. dbackman

    Well, you’ve got a great perspective on this issue Joanna. Like I said, I’m not opposed to community activism. I too have seen it produce some really successful results. But the culture of opposition here in the Bay Area stifles the design fields and prevents more progressive forms of urbanism as often as it prevents bad developments.
    And yes, NIMBY is kind of a stupid term that overgeneralizes the variety of people who participate in these forums.

  16. Justin

    I also would like to point out that it definitely seems like people in the East Bay don’t oppose “upper tier” chains like TJ’s and Whole Foods quite as much as they do “lower tier” chains like Safeway and the like. Totally weird class issues over here in the East Bay.

    I am down with community involvement and activism – I’ve done a lot of on-the-ground organizing myself. I just think a lot of it in the EB seems to be spearheaded by people with too much time on their hands and not enough perspective on the larger needs of Oakland.

  17. Born in Oakland

    Why does Rockridge get all the good stuff? Build this over in my Brooklyn neighborhood…we will welcome you with open arms!

  18. len raphael

    Justin, I doubt if anyone in rockridge in worried that a larger store will attract the riff raff . Looks to me like a much better design result from all those selfish nimbys. Curious if safeway always had the final design in their back pocket, to pull out after the expected firestorm. Did a different design firm do the latest plan?

    there’s no way that safeway will be doing that at say 51st and bway or JLS without similar battles because either there aren’t well organized residents (aka nimbys) or the residents would be happy to get any decent grocery store.

    V, why do these darn castle tower thangs have to “anchor” corners? where did that trend come from?

    -len raphael

  19. Ralph

    it ain’t the riff raff. it is the hoi polloi. :) but the argument that the ridge people make is one that goes back to the days when black folk were first freed. in its current form, the safeway appeals to no one. if the safeway somehow manages to become attractive, then the ridge folk fear that underserved minorities will suddenly populate their pristine neighborhood. it does not help that this safeway is served by a busline that reaches poor neighborhoods.

    there is a community in the east bay that does not want a bart extension because they fear it will be easy for criminals to reach and exit the neighborhood.

  20. bikerider

    I guess I’m a nimby then. Aesthetically and architecturally, this latest design is horrible in so many ways…the “feces brown” paint scheme, that ridiculous “Rockridge” Hollywood-style sign plonked on top of the building, and the facade near the garage entrance looks like a Caltrans soundwall. And if you are going to do the sidewalk cafe thing, then don’t put the tables way up on the rooftop. Worst of all, huge amount of valuable urban space is still being wasted on surface parking lot.

  21. Max Allstadt


    1. what surface parking lot?
    2. if you think that a sidewalk cafe at street level would work on that corner, you haven’t been to that corner. A second story lounge makes tons of sense, actually. It’ll likely have a decent view and a nice airy feel too.

  22. dbackman

    All your complaints are skin deep. Paint schemes and signage are some of the last things decided on any project. Instead of getting caught up in how the building looks in the conceptual stages, think a little harder about how it works and what it will do for the neighborhood. The rooftop cafe is one of the best aspects of this design. Noone wants to hang out on the sidewalk of that terrible intersection. Raise it up one level and you’ve got more air and light, a better view, and space for a number of other businesses. And yes, everyone here seems to agree that parking lots suck. But grocery stores need a lot of parking. Even I, who has never owned a car, need to drive to the grocery store now and then.

  23. bikerider

    I lived on that corner for 5 years, so know it quite well. Traffic speeds on College are extremely slow and conducive to sidewalk cafe environment (just look at what’s going on across the street). What this design does is segregate activity away from (and above) the street — so this development will not contribute to the overall ped environment.

    dbackman: yes grocery stores do need parking. But this latest design does very little to hide the surface lot (the pictures posted here are cleverly cropped to not show this).

  24. das88

    I used to live in Rockridge in the mid-80′s – about a block and a half away from the Safeway on 62nd. Crime was really bad back then. I won’t say it was the worst in the city, but we had several home robberies while we sleeping upstairs, cars broken into constantly, and my cat was even stolen.

    Some of my worst experiences of that era was entering that awful Safeway and facing the glaring florescent lights to get some needed essentials like toilet paper or beer. This new design is so hugely better than what is currently there. The second floor deck looks like a wonderful place to grab a coffee.

    When BART was going in (before my time) there was huge amounts of noise about how it would decimate property values. A friend of a friend had several rental properties in the area and sold them all because of this fear. I do not believe this was an isolated incident. Apparently this type of provincial thinking still exists.

  25. dbackman

    The new Safeway has a bigger role to play than just housing an expanded grocery store. At its best, architecture engages in a dialogue with the urban fabric. In this case, it is critical to the success of the design that the building fills out the College/Claremont triangle. Currently this intersection feels sprawling and suburban, despite the high intensity use, because the gas stations on 2 out of the 6 corners are voids in the fabric. Triangular sites like this are meant to be anchored by great buildings. Look no further than the Cathedral building in Oakland, or the Flatiron building in New York. If anything, the treatment of the triangle is too subtle and generic, rather than celebrating this unique spatial condition. But at least they got rid of the stupid rotunda thing. Such a sad meme.

  26. Max Allstadt

    The reason a sidewalk cafe won’t work at ground level is pretty clear cut. The sidewalks aren’t wide enough on that corner, and Claremont Ave is too loud. The intersection itself is horribly pedestrian unfriendly. A six-way intersection is inherently pedestrian unfriendly because it confuses motorists, which is dangerous. Only after the transition to the narrower, more sheltered feel of college ave itself does that area take on a good pedestrian feel.

    That acute angled corner should be the shelter that makes pedestrian activity more viable. In order to do that it needs to be tall, and it needs to block the view of Claremont Ave, which is 5 or 6 lanes wide and has the fastest traffic of any of the six appendages of that bozo-nightmare intersection. Additionally, the small area of surface parking that remains in the Lowney design is on the Claremont side, again isolated from College. Claremont Ave at that point is in my opinion already ruined by it’s scale and suburban vibe, so if surface parking has to remain, that’s the best place.

    Making that corner taller is good for the entire block of college to the north. It will make it feel more neighborhoody, not less.

  27. OnTheGoJo/Joanna

    bikerider – “feces brown” to you is chocolate to me. The building my store is in used to be light gray. It got dirty really quickly from the pollution in the air. They painted it brown (chocolate) in the Fall last year and I have to say that it looks a 1000 times better and the dirt is more hidden.

    I’d say that one reason against the sidewalk cafe idea is to leave that for the independent mom & pops to do elsewhere on College where rents would be lower in an older space.

    dbackman – I think I’m in the minority in not liking the new Cathedral. I think the cathedral itself is beautiful, but the corner as a whole doesn’t work for me. Maybe someday when all the greenery fills in, but the cheesy (again, imho) windows and the stark concrete on that corner are not aesthetically pleasing to my (untrained) eye.

  28. dbackman

    I meant the Cathedral Building at Broadway and Telegraph that was recently renovated. The actual Cathedral is another story. I have mixed feelings about it. The interior space is amazing to me. I love the wood structure and the way the light filters through it. But the relationship to the street is deeply flawed. The elevated plinth that it sits on kills life on the street. The concrete part of the building is nicely detailed but a little too stark. More greenery would go a long way. Look at the Oakland Museum, another stark concrete building that is enlivened by the integration of a park landscape into the terraced roof.

  29. Ralph

    i am just not seeing a sidewalk cafe on the Clare-Coll corner. As intersections go, that is by far the worst. I’d feel like a sitting duck. i like the elevated seating area good for looking down on the ant people.

    on the Cathedral, i am probably in the minority here, but I appreciate the naked sidewalk along Grand. The congestion of church goers, slow walkers, entitled teenagers, people with strollers, and runners requires a little space.

    dbackman, i assume you like the oppty that the Cathedral bldg presents. I hope that at some point in the near future 2 -3 years someone can do something with the surrounding area. I’m assuming the condos will come back on the mkt.

  30. dbackman

    Its a truly beautiful building. Whether they will ever be able to fill it up is the question. But it is a great example of how to fill a triangular lot with a landmark piece of architecture. My other favorite example in Oakland is the old Kasper’s Hot Dogs at Telegraph and Shattuck.

  31. bikerider

    The footprint of the Safeway property extends well “inland” from the Claremont corner. No, of course, I wasn’t suggesting you put a table at the 6-way, but further up College — directly across the street where all the other sidewalk-level commercial activity is going on.

    As for Claremont, yes it is a disaster zone that desperately needs a “road diet”. Maybe even landscaped boulevard. Keeping that surface lot there does not help matters.

  32. Max Allstadt

    Of course, there already is a cafe across the street, locally owned and operated. Keeping the cafe on the roof is probably a good way of preventing some of the concerns about losing local businesses. If it’s a different format and a different vibe than Cole, it’s more synergistic and less competitive.

  33. Max Allstadt


    The Kasper’s building has been empty for as long as I can remember. Partly because the cost/benefit of acquiring it and developing it is totally skewed. Oakland ought to have some sort of planning incentive/fee waiver/bonus for developing weird plots like that. Who decides what’s weird is another can of worms I won’t go into.

    Kaspers would make a great BRT station/cafe.

  34. Patrick

    Wow – a BRT station/cafe is a GREAT use for Kasper’s. I hope someone steps up soon – it’s a sin to let that building (and awesome sign) deteriorate like that.

  35. dbackman

    Revitalizing Kaspers into a cafe/plaza/transit nexus is a dream project for me. Spent some time documenting the building a while back. I hope to whip up some design ideas when I have some free time. Let’s make it happen!

  36. Robert

    I’ll swing by and take another look some day, but I don’t think that building has any architectural significance. Save the sign for history if you want, but raze the building and put up something that will be functional for its next use.

  37. Max Allstadt

    I never felt the building was all that special either. But the site is. The sign’s worth keeping too. I particularly like the idea of moving the BRT stop down that way because it would make the McDonalds and Jack in the Crack lots too valuable to remain fast food.

  38. len raphael

    for a group of anti-nimbys, you are just chomping at the bit to redesign other people’s property . hopefully not via eminent domain.

    son of casper, who ran the biz for a few years after dad retired, participates in local temescal yahoo group. as of maybe 6 months ago he was still saying he wanted to reopen. you can check alameda county assessors web site to see if his family still owns the site. i’ll forward his email address to v if someone wants to talk to him etc.

    speaking of BRT: why was it positioned along Tele instead of starting with Broadway? There is so little retail along Bway so you wouldn’t be taking away the parking of a whole bunch of barely making it retailers. The main difference would be further away from poorer sections of N Oakland and Berkeley. Vacant land along Bway can’t be more expensive than Tele.

    -len raphael

  39. Max Allstadt

    Short answer on BRT len: Ridership projections were highest on the line chosen. Additional lines have been proposed for after the completion of the first.

  40. Patrick

    But back to the topic at hand – how could anyone object to this new design? The first post I really took part in on this blog was about the old design, which I despised for its cookie cutter look and blend of 12 different architectural styles wrapped up in faux Mediterranean skin. I think that design would look GREAT – in Livermore.

    The new design looks “expensive meets 2009 urban hip” to my eyes. Although I would personally also prefer more height at the corner, the height reduction reduces impact, which is kind of what people were asking for. And Safeway would never rebuild if they can’t get more space – why bother recreating a store that’s exactly the same size (or only marginally larger)? It’s not like they’re adding space to sell tires and lawn equipment. Anyone for wider aisles and lower shelves, raise your hand. How anyone can look at the current setup within the context of “Rockridge” and complain about this new building I will never understand. It will turn the site from an eyesore into an anchor.

    Who said that if the sign on the side said “Whole Foods” rather than “Safeway” these NIMBYs would be singing a different tune? I heartily second that.

  41. len raphael

    DB, were you around when the old guy was still cutting the tomatoes by hand for the steamed (never grilled) dogs? The place was the hot dog equivalent of the Last Chance bar. definitely not the highest best use but good fast food.

  42. dbackman

    Never had the pleasure. Sounds great though. Maybe Kasper should open up a hot dog stand in one of the new Safeway storefronts.

  43. Chris

    As someone who lives in the neighborhood and shopped regularly at the current Safeway for 17 years, all I can say to the new design is, “Hallelujah!” Going to the existing Safeway can be a miserable experience, with its limited parking, crowded aisles, and jammed check-out lines. Not only that, it’s a physically unattractive store and contributes nothing to the overall character of the neighborhood except the sense of neglected urban blight. I could care less about the sign.

    To “Bikerider,” I couldn’t disagree with you more. I like the proposed color and layout. The new design seems more spacious and elegant, and certainly in keeping with the somewhat upscale quality of that corner of College and Claremont.

    And while I won’t miss the 76 station, that’s where I currently get exchange propane canisters. I guess I’ll have to figure out a new source for that.

    To the architects on this project: Good job on the new design!

  44. leila

    The NIMBYs in Rockridge are as tiresome as the GOP – they always say no. This plan is a lovely upgrade to the neighborhood. Thank you Safeway….

  45. Hayden

    Will the new Safeway actually have two stories used for commercial and/or residential, or is it a single-story structure dressed up as something else? From the renderings, it seems like the latter–a one-story building that will be solely occupied by Safeway, but which looks vaguely like a Portland, Oregon version of the Rockridge Market Hall.

    It would be nice to see two stories of use here, although alternatively, an interesting one-floor structure might not be too devastating–that is, if the building height was used in an interesting way in the interior, as opposed to being just a high facade.

  46. Becks

    The building is two stories. The first floor will house 8-9 small retail stores on College and Claremont, and behind those stores will be the parking lot. The second floor will be taken up entirely by a larger Safeway store.

  47. jackbdazzle

    I am very surprised that Safeway has spent so much time making the community happy (or at least trying to). They could easily have just dropped the remodel plan completely. It is not like we in Oakland have that many choices for groceries. I appreciate that they are willing to make an investment in us in this economy.

    Overall, I think they did a great job.

  48. jenn

    I like the new design a lot better than the last one proposed. I don’t have a car AND I hate shopping at Safeway in general – this one is probably one of the crappiest Safeways around. It’ll be nice to have a cafe area at that corner – looks like it would be better for people with kids/strollers than Cole Coffee, so the rest of us can have more space for our motorcycles. ;)

  49. kokloong

    I live 1 block south of the Safeway, just off College Avenue. I bought into the area 2 years ago and love the retail mix. Definitely looking forward to the new Safeway (kudos to the architects!) I just fear that the NIMBYs will have their way because they are so skilled at causing maximum ruckus with their faux-rational appeals for “small-scale” stores on College. Diversity is great, let’s have big and small! What the really NIMBYs really want is no change, the wonderful ability to keep free riding (i.e. parking) at Safeway while the shop at Yasai or grab a coffee at Cole, and to bandy about exaggerated fears (hello – we didn’t suddenly get traffic jams when TJ opened…) about traffic increases.
    I think the main thing now for supporters of the project is to make sure that this gets through the planning commission. I am looking out for any meetings/hearings that are going to be held. Once it is through, my understanding is that someone wants to appeal it they have to pay a non-refundable fee. Is that correct?

  50. RobertW

    DBackman, you’re mistaken. Rockridge is NOT Progrssive. Only progressive for OTHER people. Some used to say it was conservative 35-40 years ago, but now it’s reactionary in a different way.

    Agree that the College entry would probably best be killed, but unlikely. That would drive the College/Claremont and College/Alcatraz intersections crazy.

  51. BrianT


    As a neighbor of Safeway, I like what Lowry has done with the project. I was on the fence previously before the May 6th presentation. I agree that supporters of the project will get their voices drowned out by the NIMBY’s who are opposed to even small mom & pop restaurants moving into the spaces along College. It is important to have moderate voices at the planning commisission meetings!

    Two Questions for you about the process (you may not know them!)

    Safeway is going for a rockridge zoning C-31 exemption. The 8 retail spaces are Safeway condominiums that I imagine they will sell ahead of time to help finance the construction. Are the commercial owners of these condos still under C-31 zoning requirements for the use of those spaces by default or must language be adopted in the exemption to require this?

    The great features of the design run the risk of being “value-engineered” away from the project when the general contractor starts to price the design for construction. In your experience, is the language in the C-31 zoning exemption the last chance that residents have in protecting those features and making sure that they are not given away in “value-engineering”?

    Very long, I know, but I hope that you can help!