The new Safeway on College

So, I don’t think I’ve even mentioned the debate over the new Safeway on College. One of the things that delights me most as a blogger is when other people write about important issues so I don’t have to, and happily, the Safeway expansion has been extensively covered in the blogosphere even without any contribution on my part (see the list at the end of the post).

So, in case you live in like, a cave or the other side of the Lake or something, Safeway wants to tear down their Rockridge store on College and Claremont and build a new, bigger, fancier one in its place. You know the one. It’s the unfriendly windowless building surrounded by a huge surface parking lot and a gas station towards the end of the Rockridge shopping district.

Safeway unveiled designs for the replacement store back in June. The 25,000 square foot existing store, parking lot, and gas station would all be replaced with a 59,000 square foot 2-story building extending all the way to the property line. College Avenue and a little bit of Claremont Avenue would be fronted with small retail spaces totaling 16,000 square feet that would hide the 212 parking spaces inside them, then the second level would hold the grocery store itself.

I don’t think the design above is perfect, but it’s definitely a good start, and certainly a huge improvement over the existing mess on that lot. In spite of the row of cute shops and restaurants across College Avenue from the building, I always kind of feel like Rockridge ends at the Claremont and College intersection – that intersection is weird and a pain to cross, and the giant parking lot and concrete wall is just so unpleasant to walk past, I usually just stop and turn around at that point. So I’d love to see it replaced with retail that would not only improve the pedestrian experience, but also add more shopping and possibly dining options to what is already a quite charming neighborhood.

Regular readers know I tend not to be particularly sympathetic to NIMBYs, so it should come as no surprise that I find the protests over the new store silly. But this time the NIMBYism is even more absurd than usual, to the point where I seriously can’t even deal with it. Like, I just don’t understand at all. When people talk about a 5 story building being too tall, I think that’s silly. But when people complain, as they do here, that a 2-story building is too tall – well, I don’t even know how to respond to that. Blocking out the sky and the sun? WTF? It’s two stories. Two stories! Get a grip, people.

The other thing I don’t get, and that I hear over and over and over again, is that the design proposal was “suburban.” Again, WTF? I can’t help but wonder if these people have ever been to the suburbs. Having grown up in a suburb of Houston, I consider myself somewhat of an expert on the subject. So please, let me educate you city-folk about how it is. In the suburbs, people tend to drive everywhere they go. Development is planned to accommodate this transportation habit, and the result is that most grocery stores and shopping centers are placed far off the street and surrounded by ginormous surface parking lots. Usually, there’s a gas station near the parking lot entrance, because people who drive around constantly need to fill up a lot. For the most part it looks a lot like – well, a lot like the existing College Avenue Safeway.

Now, I never particularly enjoyed living in the suburbs, which is why I moved to a city. Things I like about living in a city include pedestrian-friendly streets with retail frontage all along the sidewalk. You know, like most of Rockridge. And like the building above. So calling this design “suburban,” well, it doesn’t make a lick of sense to me.

Anyway, after early summer community meetings revealed significant community opposition to this, um, allegedly too tall, suburban style building, Safeway decided to scrap the plans, temporarily at least, and convene a working group where community stakeholders air their concerns in a structured environment, which will then be used to inform a new design.

The working group will meet for the fifth time tonight from 7 to 9 at the Claremont Middle School gym, 5750 College Avenue. My understanding is that members of the public are welcome to attend the meetings and watch, but are not permitted to participate in the discussion. But if you’re interested in the current status of the project, it might be worth popping by. here’s the agenda (PDF). If you can’t make it, but want to learn more, I recommend checking out the Safeway on College website, where you can view the minutes of previous meetings and get more information about the project.

Safeway on College Coverage:

77 thoughts on “The new Safeway on College

  1. rajbot

    How about they tear down the Rockridge Safeway altogether and bring it to Jack London?

    I promise we won’t complain.

  2. ConcernedOakFF

    Typically short-sighted vision. I can’t understand the appeal of keeping the current ugly configuration when literally anything would look better. I think people that live in that area just don’t want flatlanders coming to their “little piece of heaven”.

    If Safeway owns the lots, they should just build it, and who cares what the people think…I am kidding a bit, but honestly, what do they want? I think this looks nice!

  3. VivekB

    I live near there, and go shopping there 2x/week. Heck, I gotta go tonight en-route to picking up my kids from school. I’ve got it down to 15 mins in&out for the basics plus something to cook for dinner.

    My take on it is that I don’t really give a crap what it looks like, as long as there’s parking and good flow. Leave it alone, or build a new one, i don’t care, as long as it’s easy to get to, shop at, and get out.

    It is pretty funny to see my neighbors get so up in arms about a grocery store. It’s not as if going to 59K sqft will tear at the very fabric of Rockridgean Society (or, as if leaving it alone would result in doom & gloom)…

  4. Eric Fischer

    From the pedestrian perspective, no matter what they build there, that block north of Claremont is never going to feel like part of Rockridge until somebody convinces the city to fix the traffic lights so that you don’t have to do two separate pushbutton-actuated crossings to get across the street. That’s what really kills the continuity.

  5. Andy

    Glad you brought this up. I could not understand the opposition either. You really clarified how dumb the opposition is.

    The existing store stinks. It is way to small, and is always crowded.

    All the other buildings in the area are at least 2 stories.

  6. Aaron Priven

    I am not sure what they might mean by “too suburban,” but it may refer to the façade, which in its stucco-ness does seem like it wouldn’t be out of place in some suburban shopping center. Not ugly, to my view, but not very urban, either. I wonder if a brick façade wouldn’t be more in touch with the nearby buildings.

    Having said that I think this is a tremendous improvement over what’s there now and the only thing I would change is to add two or three stories of affordable housing on top of it.

    Eric — I agree. it would certainly be interesting to find out what the traffic implications would be of closing access to 62nd and Florio streets there. But short of that, what a lovely place for a “pedestrian scramble.”

  7. Max Allstadt

    The size complaint is just loony. If anything, it should be taller.

    Beige stucco, on the other hand, is ugly. It will always be ugly, except on a sunny day, just after being washed. There are a few shades of stucco that are attractive in all weather. There are some don’t show the dirt that stucco collects due to its texture. Light beige has neither of these benefits.

    If a brick facade would be more in touch with nearby buildings, the NIMBYs should ask for brick colored stucco. No cost difference. Less “suburban”

  8. Andrew

    I walk through Claremont/College regularly, and I value the view of the hills over the current store. I don’t blame the locals for wanting to keep that. But Oakland has lots of wedge-shaped corner lots on Broadway and College, and each one is a chance for developers to do something special. I think Safeway is going the right direction, but I won’t castigate the local residents for pushing back.

  9. We Fight Blight

    When I first heard about the controversy over the Safeway in Rockridge I had to contain my laughter. The NYMBY’s were at it again. Having used that Safeway for many years for late night purchases, I can only say that it is completely outdated. The Safeway, in its current configuration of a relatively small grocery store surrounded by a sea of parking, is a quintessential suburban development model. To say that the current proposal is too suburban is at best disingenuous if not downright dishonest. To lament that Safeway will drive out the smaller businesses across the street is simply protectionist with an added taste of hysteria. If Yasai, La Farine and other specialty food stores are so valued by the community, the community will vote with their patronage and continue to support those businesses–I do even though I am closer to Whole Foods and Berkeley Bowl. I didn’t see anyone complaining that the new Trader Joe’s down the street (which is another quintessential suburban model) was somehow going to result in the demise of Market Hall. So why all of the fuss?

    The reality is that the Safeway in Rockridge is used largely by UC students and to a lesser extent by more established Rockridge residents. Many of these affluent Rockridge residents and foodies choose to shop at Market Hall, Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl and Andronico’s all of which are in close proximity and have a much better food selection and fresh fruits and vegetables. I suspect the leakage Safeway is talking about is to Whole Foods, Berkeley Bowl and Andronico’s and that may also be looking to capture back lost patronage from Market Hall and Trader Joe’s. With another Trader Joe’s coming to downtown Berkeley and another huge Berkeley Bowl coming to West Berkeley, I find it hard to believe that North Oakland/Berkeley can support so many large grocery stores. If Safeway believes their market analysis justifies the investment, all the more power to them because their proposal would transform a relatively underutilized and poorly designed corner.

    I suspect what we have here is not a community in arms, but a very vocal, very loud minority of nearby residents who want to kill or significantly downsize the project because they believe that a larger store with easy parking will generate more trip traffic and create an even worse traffic situation than currently exists on College Avenue (sounds a lot like the opposition to the new Berkeley Bowl in West Berkeley). Mind you, much of that traffic is actually generated by those going to and from UC Berkeley and attempting to get onto the freeway not those going to Safeway.

    What is ironic about this situation is the very proposal Safeway has for Rockridge and Solano Avenue (which also ran into neighborhood opposition) is to take a suburban model and reformulate it to better integrate their stores into the urban fabric by creating a relationship with the street-scape and creating a more interesting pedestrian scale. This is the very essence of Rockridge. Most of the buildings along College Avenue, commercial and residential, are two and three stories. Having a properly designed two or three story or four story building at this corner could result in a signature development that redefines the intersection. Attention to form, details, and materials is the key to success.

  10. Ralph

    i see nothing wrong with the design especially considering my contempt for that particularly Safeway. I am surprised the OFD hasn’t closed it. What is the safe occupancy of that place? 12. Now I would be happier if Safeway opened a location in Uptown but they hate black people so that won’t be happening anytime soon.

  11. Stax

    Agreed, these people need to get a life.

    I’ll take it a step further. Tear down the newish Trader Joe’s on College and replace it with high density residential (ground floor retail). Heresy, I know, but that TJ’s is waste of transit oriented real estate. I love TJ’s and to have it within four blocks of my house is a bonus, but that lot would be better used for a zero setback mixed use structure.

  12. Ya

    Any chance of them building a floor or two higher? It seems to me a low-rise structure here would be truly a wasted opportunity for such a central location.

    A wedge block is a special thing and as such a building here should be at least three or four floors to bring out that effect.

  13. Patrick

    Who wouldn’t love this piece of “architecture”? Moorish turrets-cove archways-Craftsman archways- oversized floor to ceiling plate glass windows-undersized mullioned windows-Palladian windows-clerestory windows-Chalet-style trailing walls-pergolas-open balconies-Juliet balconies-opera balconies-wood shake roofing-faux exposed rafters and beams-Art Deco boomerang facade at the corner and a whole bunch of babyshit brown styrofoam “stucco” to tie it all together…this isn’t suburban, it’s EVERYTHING! And with 212 interior parking spaces to boot! Welcome to the wonderful world of McSafeway architecture.

  14. Becks

    I attended the meeting tonight, and things are NOT looking good for this project. It now seems likely that Safeway might scrap the project and instead just paint the old building and leave it as is. I wrote a blog post about the depressing meeting so if you want to know more, check it out.

  15. Tony T

    The original design looks great. Hide that hideous parking lot.

    Instead of tearing it down and taking it to Jack London how about bringing it to the flatlands of East Oakland? I’m sure in the “cuts” my fellow neighbors would welcome a Safeway, in any form regardless of aesthetics.

  16. Max Allstadt

    Patrick’s right. This isn’t exactly Mies Van Der Rohe. In fact it’s fairly banal. But what were you expecting from a shopping center in a suburban feeling part of a minor city?

    I like hiding the parking, but otherwise, aesthetically, this design is lame…
    But half the reason is probably that the designers were trying to placate the whiney white aging over-privileged baby boomers who make up the Rockridge NIMBY demographic.

    You know what? Fuck it. If these crackers want to preserve their mediocrity, let’em. If growth gets hamstrung in Rockridge, maybe we’ll get some of it deflected to a part of the city that actually deserves it.

  17. Becks

    Max – I’m hoping you’re at least half joking, but some of us in North Oakland do NOT want to preserve mediocrity. You know, it’s not even mediocre – it’s really, really awful and easily the ugliest lot in the area.

    We could use more retail and that parking lot has to go. Also, the architect last night proposed bulb outs that would get rid of street parking and increase pedestrian space. That would be such a huge improvement and would help the flow of traffic along College.

    I know I’m not settling for mediocrity. I hope others are with me on this.

  18. Max Allstadt

    Joking, sorta. I mean the proposal is clearly an improvement on what’s there, but I ain’t gonna say it’s good design. Planning seems alright though. I’m more baiting than joking.

  19. Patrick

    Well, I’m not joking. The current Safeway does what it is designed to do: easy access parking and a medium-sized, with a familiar layout, grocery store. It may not be the most attractive, but it does not impose itself and become the focal point of the area. If you expect Safeway – SAFEWAY! – to transform this part of Rockridge into a folksy “let’s hold hands and skip down the wide sidewalk” area, you’re in for a rude awakening. This same transformation has already occured in The City (with all of their stringent rules)…check out the the new Safeway on 9th Ave. in the Richmond district. It is so big, so overdesigned and so damn ugly, it completely overwhelms the neighborhood it purports to serve. Personally, I prefer serviceable and lame to tacky self important corporate monuments.

  20. ConcernedOakFF

    It is really a wonder to me that any architect would want to build anything in Oakland, Berkeley or San Francisco. All they get is complaints, whining, NIMBY’S and wacko’s that try to prevent any sort of progress. It is not like they are tearing down the Clairmont Hotel for godsake…it’s a freaking UGLY Safeway!!

    In this economy, the fact that they are even trying to do anything that costs this much should be appreciated.

    I agree, bring this to an under-served part of the city, maybe near the new development in West Oakland like Pacific Cannery Lofts. The people in that area would just like to have a store, any store, that allows them to buy something other than Rainbow Bread and Liquor so that their kids can eat something healthy….

    Geez…frustrating to say the least.

  21. Max Allstadt


    Thank you for posting that image. It gives me an opportunity to compare bad planning (in the image you linked) to good planning (the proposal above).

    The photo you linked shows a development without any storefront doors directly on the sidewalk.
    The proposal has multiple sidewalk storefronts.

    The photo you linked has surface parking in view of the street.
    The proposal has none.

    The photo you linked shows a development isolated from the street on a plinth.
    The proposal does not do this. In fact it seems to make every reasonable effort to engage the street.

    The photo you linked shows the Safeway store as the only component of the development.
    The proposal doesn’t do this either.

    There is also no terrace cafe in the image you linked to.
    Nor are there any plantings on the sidewalk.

    In short, your image is irrelevant and transparently manipulative. The only thing the two projects seem to have in common is a Safeway sign. Oh, and lettuce inside. And Cheerios. And those super skinny baguettes I like. I bet they both have those too.

    I still don’t think the proposal is aesthetically anything to write home about. But the planning seems very responsible compared to the debacle that’s there now and the debacle in the photo you linked. I can’t expect the architects to change the design all that much, but at least think about wisely choosing paint color on stucco, or murals by local artists. Maybe a finish other than stucco in some key places?

  22. alcatrazy

    Speaking as someone with a house in this general area (more North Oakland than Rockridge) and someone who frequents the butcher, the baker, the grocery store, and cole coffee, I’m shocked at everyone’s “YAY GO SAFEWAY” mentality.

    Yes I want to preserve my neighborhood. Is that protectionist? Damn right. If I wanted San Jose architecture I would move to San Jose. If I want to go to a mega Safeway, I’ll go to 51st and Broadway where there already is one.

    I sincerely hope they do just slap a coat of new paint on it and leave it as is. I don’t trust safeway and their corporate developers to be good neighbors. Sometimes your obnoxious neighbors need to be checked. This is one of those times.

  23. ConcernedOakFF

    Alcatrazy –

    I also frequent and appreciate the stores across the street. I will not stop going to them if they build the new Safeway, as I assume that you will not either. People that are currently going to La Farine, the Butcher and Cole Coffee will most likely continue to go to these businesses.

    What bad could come out of building something that looks nicer and *may* draw more people to shop at the businesses that populate the area?

    If keeping the current Safeway is not an option, what would you like to see? It seems that most people that are opposed to it are not giving realistic options to the developers.

    Oakland needs jobs, business and tax revenue. This could pull more people in from Berkeley in the same way that Emeryville pulls Oakland tax money into their city.

    This plan adds 100 Union jobs to the area. It adds parking spaces so that people will not get frustrated and leave when they want to buy a loaf of bread from La Farine and have a coffee at Cole’s. It adds a sense of completeness to an area that looks unfinished.

    Why don’t you, the residents, work constructively with the company so that they can actually accomplish something rather than doing nothing other than saying “put some lipstick on the pig” and “I hate suburbia”.

    Oakland is in TERRIBLE financial straights. I am not sure how many people really understand the situation we are in. Every CENT of tax dollars and jobs are needed to keep this place running.

  24. VivekB

    This is one of the times obnoxious neighbors need to be checked. And if Cole Coffee and that fruit stand can’t survive on their own without a surface parking lot across the street as they don’t get enough walkin traffic, perhaps they shouldn’t be surviving in the first place.

    If the immediate neighborhood doesn’t walk to & patronize the businesses well enough to support them, then businesses that are of value to those immediate neighbors should be put in their place.

    I live in central rockridge (bet BART & Pasta Pomodoro), trust me – those businesses are mega-frequented by locals without the need for some massive parking structure. I constantly have to wait for tables because all my damn neighbors are hogging them up.

  25. Chris Kidd

    Count me in the support column for a new safeway. The inside of the old one makes me empahtize with sardines in the can.

    That said, I still have some major reservations with the design as is. I know that Safeway has their specific brand and image to project, but it’s not a good idea when that brand image is ugly(rehash all the talking points above). There are far more imaginative -and less corporate- design concepts that would probably draw less ire from the community. Look at the Whole Foods that moved into the old Cadillac dealership (which before that was a public bathhouse, interestingly enough) down on Harrison near the lake. They did an amazing job of incorporating the classic structure into the new building without losing any of the “Whole Foods brand”.

    The other thing that drives me nuts, which WeFightBlight referenced in LivingInTheO’s post comments, is that the one area that screams out for additional height is actually the one area where height is reduced in the current plan – namely, the end of the triangle lot. That Claremont/College intersection is HUGE. It is only fitting to have a tower feature or faux-flat iron feature or 3-story observation deck or *something* on that corner to appropriately frame the intersection and make it seem less of the gigantic empty space that it is, especially with the added open space of the caddy-corner 76 station that increases this perception. I think it is this intersection, more than the surface parking lot at the current safeway, that makes this area into a natural terminus for the rockridge shopping area. Having something to frame that intersection and reduce its relative size and emptiness could actually help encourage the expansion and extension of rockridge shopping. The added bonus is that you could then ramp the rest of the building down from that corner feature so that it more seamlessly integrates at the other ends of the lot into the surrounding neighborhood buildings.

    I’m guessing, however, that reducing bulk on the corner was one of the first thing neighbors wanted on the project. *le sigh…*

  26. alcatrazy


    Yes, Rockridge does look different than San Jose.


    If Safeway was interested in creating jobs, if Safeway was interested in helping to create a better Oakland, why wouldn’t they start by opening stores in areas that are they are currently underserved? I’m hearing lots of comments about areas that would welcome a new market. Safeway’s not going to solve Oakland’s problems, and I certainly don’t think that a larger store in Rockridge will help.

    Look, I don’t want them taking over the block. Is that too much to ask? Why can’t they work with what they have?

    And as far as the “looks nicer” I suppose that’s in the eye of the beholder. I personally don’t like the designs that have been presented. I think it will dominate the area. It goes back to being a good neighbor. It’s a land grab, pure and simple. I want to live in a neighborhood, not a mall.

  27. dto510

    Oakland is a city of law, not mob rule. Safeway’s proposal follows relevant policies for Rockridge, and its design is exactly what the city is encouraging for new retail with updated zoning – lot-line construction, pedestrian orientation, and multiple retail spaces. Angry neighbors can make ridiculous claims about an urban design looking suburban or that a huge surface parking lot from the 1960s is essential to the character of Rockridge, but the real question is, does the proposal comply with Oakland’s laws governing development? It clearly does. Safeway needs to grow a pair and present their zoning-compliant proposal to the Planning Comission, and not let a handful of angry neighbors set planning policy for Oakland’s largest retail district.

  28. Max Allstadt


    I was suggesting that you tell me what you think of as “Rockridge Architecture”, and also “San Jose Architecture” and then explain how this project fails to adhere to “Rockridge Architecture”. What I think I got in response was a non-answer, followed by you going back to the issue of not liking the project because it’s too big and it will be owned by a corporation.

    How much smaller would be small enough to make you happy? How would the aesthetics have to change to make you happy? Not that you get to make the call, nor do I. I’d just rather hear solutions.

    As for the zoning compliance, I believe DTO is right. Are there any variances at all being requested? If not, than the NIMBYs can bitch all they want, and they’ll get nowhere. I agree, DTO, if this proposal is compliant, Safeway should grow a pair and finalize their application.

    We live in a city. Nothing should be restricted to a single story. Nothing on a major thoroughfare should be prevented from growing to its lot lines. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, we live in an urban center that’s predicted to increase it’s population by 30% in the next 30 years. In such a context, opposing increased density is masochistic.

  29. Patrick

    Ah, Max, . The artist renderings for the Safeway in the Richmond District looked lovely too – and the picture shows what was built. Multiple storefronts on the street? I envision Starbucks and T-Mobile. No surface parking? Nice touch, but puts the problem of stopped traffic on the street, rather than the lot itself (visit the Whole Foods on California in SF sometime…same situation). Isolated from the street on a plinth? Max, it’s two feet high. I would hardly call that isolation. And there IS a terrace cafe in front of the SF Safeway…it is behind the slate wall with easier access from the street (and parking lot, granted). And that Terrace Cafe in the Rockridge rendering appears to be, on average, about 7 feet wide. Perhaps the most telling part of the rendering is that the “people” on the “terrace” indicate a terrace wall height of about 24″. Illustrative license, you say? They are drawn at the same scale as the people below. Now look at the white car on the left (which appears to be, what, 20 feet away? It is dwarfed by the building. This whole rendering is skewed specifically to draw attention to the Art Deco streamline terrace up front, which is one glass sided story plus terrace, and away from the hulking overwrought main part of the building behind it. This two story building will have the height and presence of a four story one. And, it will have the same cheap-o construction quality and overall “look” of the Safeway in SF, plinth or no. I will agree that a new building may be preferable to the old one, but this is just a strip mall sucked inside out.

  30. V Smoothe Post author

    My understanding is that even if Safeway’s proposal is compliant with the area’s zoning (which I believe it is), they still have to apply for a conditional use permit for the new store (Rockridge’s C-31 zoning requires a CUP for like, every conceivable use, including general food sales). So the Planning Commission could deny the CUP if they wanted to.

    Since the project requires a CUP, it will also be subject to Design Review by the Planning Commission, which would be the appropriate forum to air concerns about stucco, color, etc.

  31. Max Allstadt

    Patrick, you couldn’t dwarf a dwarf with a two story building.

    As for the plinth, any plinth ruins street interaction. And the barriers in your posted image make it even worse. The image you posted is wantonly manipulative. It simply isn’t anything like what’s being proposed.

    What’s been proposed is a small town feel, it isn’t urban, or suburban.

    If you don’t like the possibility of other national chains moving into the other spaces in this development, you might get some traction on that with the commission or the council. What district is this in? When Out of the Closet wanted to lease space in Kernighan’s district, she stepped in at the behest of her constituents. I’m not saying I support this kind of thing per se, but if you want to pressure Safeway to prioritize leases for locally owned businesses, that’s probably a feasible concession.


    C31 eh? Did the NIMBYs invent that one or was the planning department coerced into creating it, the same way that NIMBYs who hate fratboys forced a rule about a five bedroom maximum in the hills? Mob rule is difficult to avoid when the mob helps make the rules.

  32. Patrick

    If the rendering is accurate, the portion of the building featuring the palladian window appears to be 40 feet high (assuming an 8′ door height). There aren’t many two story buildings with 20 foot ceiling heights, or many dwarves who would not be dwarfed. I do agree it has that “small town feel”, assuming that small town is Emeryville. And it is not wantonly manipulative to have posted the picture of the Safeway in SF. That is an actual photograph of what Safeway actually built after years of arguing with the city and the affected citizenry. Cheap, throwaway architectural plans look like cheap, throwaway buildings when built…no matter how much they dazzle on paper.

  33. dto510

    If you read the C-31 use permit requirements, which I understand were created by Rockridge NIMBYs in the early 1980s, they clearly favor Safeway’s urban, pedestrian-oriented design. The current car-oriented store, or the strip-mall “Trachtenberg Proposal” on the project website, wouldn’t meet several of C-31′s requirements for maintaining continuous retail frontage and not having much car ingress on College. The height limit is 35′ with exceptions for mechanical equipment or “architectural projections.” Safeway’s proposal follows guidelines set by the neighborhood, let alone the General Plan. Opponents’ bizarre misunderstanding of pedestrian-oriented design and Rockridge’s character are not a reason for Safeway to retreat from proposing a legal and desirable tax-generating development.

  34. V Smoothe Post author

    dto510, I assume you’re talking about lines such as 17.48.100 B & C?

    B. That the proposal will not impair a generally continuous wall of building facades;
    C. That the proposal will not weaken the concentration and continuity of retail facilities at ground level, and will not impair the retention or creation of an important shopping frontage

  35. alcatrazy


    Really, I didn’t think I needed to explain the difference in architecture. My response intended to point out that the architecture in Rockridge and in your average suburb are quite different. You seem to suggest that if I dropped you blindfolded in the middle of San Jose you would think you were in Rockridge. That’s preposterous.

    I’ve spent time in the burbs, just was in orange county visiting family. I know what a strip mall is. I’ve also spent time in Houston, where the city counsel has historically been stacked with developers. As a result you have quiet neighborhoods with mirrored office buildings lurching over them.

    I go back to my point, it’s about being a good neighbor. Safeway is profiting on this community. Why wouldn’t they want to be good neighbors and respect the wishes of the people who live in the area?

    Nice play on my screen name there, btw.

  36. Max Allstadt

    woah. sorry! that was a misread of your screen name, not a play on it! for reals, sorry!

    I’m still waiting for a description of what a “good” development would look like to those who are so militantly opposed to this one. If I was king the building would be much less conservative, because I don’t believe in pastchitecture as a matter of my personal philosophy. I still think the easiest solution is to fix the finishes.

    As for slowing down traffic, I don’t think that’s all that likely, but if it happens, good! Cars shouldn’t be able to go faster than 20 in a pedestrian retail district anyway.

  37. V Smoothe Post author

    Patrick Alcatrazy (edited. -V), the current Rockridge Safeway looks like Houston. And your understanding of that City’s politics is wildly misguided. “Quiet neighborhoods with mirrored office buildings lurching over them” has ZERO to do with the City Council being “stacked with developers,” it’s because we don’t have zoning. The lack of zoning also has nothing to do with developers on the City Council. We don’t have it because the voters of Houston have rejected it on three separate occasions.

  38. Robert

    It would be fascinating to see what excuses are used to reject a CUP for a like kind replacement of exisitng use that conforms to the zoning.

    V, are there criteria that the planning commission uses to determine whether to approve/deny a CUP for a conforming use?

  39. alcatrazy


    I assume you’re responding to my entry, not Patrick’s.

    That’s the history of Houston that I know. What I’ve read and what people who live there have told me. It is, however, a sterling example of unchecked development and the lack of zoning.

    And with that, I’ll be up at cole if anyone wants to continue the conversation. I think I’m outnumbered here. We clearly have different ideas about what a better Oakland looks like.

  40. Chuck

    In a lot of ways, I think this city needs just about all the damn redevelopment it can get its hands on. I love Rockridge and am a proud resident, but sometimes I have to shake my head and feel like yelling “Would you people *lighten up*?!”

  41. Max Allstadt

    Yeah, how does the Berkeley/Rockridge culture go in less than 30 years from protesting for more civil rights to protesting against more room to sell lettuce?

  42. Patrick

    What a ridiculous and flippant comment. This is not about “room to sell more lettuce”. It is about a 50,000+ sq. ft. commercial building and land use decision that will alter Rockridge – one of the most desirable neigborhoods in Oakland – for many decades to come.

  43. Max Allstadt

    Most desirable, eh? Let me rephrase mine accordingly:

    Yeah, how does the Berkeley/Rockridge culture go in less than 30 years from protesting for more civil rights to protesting to preserve the equity of their overpriced houses?

  44. Becks

    Just to be very clear here, the picture that V showed us in her post is the original proposal from Safeway that has now been entirely dropped. So if you think it’s ugly, there’s no point in arguing that anymore. They heard that and are creating an entirely new plan. The sketches that the architect showed us last night were I think much more attractive and would fit nicely into the neighborhood.

    There’s plenty to debate here, but continuing to debate the stucco and other design elements in the original design is really just an academic undertaking now. They’ll have entirely new renderings ready by December 9th.

  45. Max Allstadt

    Thanks becks.

    V, do you have that rendering? I’d like to see an up to date version of this grave threat to Rockridge’s affluence. Break out the torches and pitchforks people, property values are at stake.

  46. Robert

    I would actually be more interested in the space programming, since that has apparently changed also. The stucco and otehr exterior treatments are hardly something that Safeway is going to go to the mat for. Although I haven’t seen the lastest plans for the lot, some of the suggestions actually sound like they are going entirely the wrong way. E.g. not incorporating the gas station property into the overall design and elimination of the small shops along College. I don’t know if these were incorporated, but they were suggestions. So the programming is what the neighbors and the city should really be concerned about.

  47. Becks

    Max – there are no renderings yet, only some preliminary sketches of the sidewalk shops and streetscaping. I’m hoping those sketches will be posted on Safeway’s site soon – they’re really inspiring.

    Robert – it sounds like Safeway might be bringing two proposals to the table on December 9th. One will be 50K ft with parking, but no retail. Another will be 50K ft with parking and retail. I’m not sure we’ll know much more before that meeting.

    Regardless of what Safeway does, they are buying the gas station and tearing it down. If they end up just painting the old store, the gas station will sadly just turn into parking spaces. If they end up doing the full rebuild, the gas station area will partly become a pedestrian plaza and partly be incorporated into the building.

  48. Max Allstadt

    I’m not being manipulative, I’m being sarcastic. It’s fun. You did it in your description of the rendering too, so you know it’s fun.

    So, here’s another thought, what I’d do if I were architect and king of Rockridge, and had a sense of humor:

    1. Let them have their 50ksf, maybe a little more. Allow the design to include a lot of big flat cheap stucco surfaces.
    2. Design the massing so that painting and repainting those surfaces can be accomplished from ladder height as often as possible (low liability staging). Use a terracing scheme, for instance, or wrap a ramp around the wedge corner.
    3. Use the incentive of allowing a cheap big build to throw in a caveat: Mandatory Murals on all of the stucco, done by students from CCA, CAL, Laney, and/or Oakland School for the Arts, etc… Mandate repainting each of a multitude of murals on a bi-annual basis, staggered.
    4. Use the savings gained by building an economical exterior to fund an arts program and a local community board to select muralist applicants. Create this as a non-profit subsidiary. Seek grants.
    5. Yes, they get to have a safeway sign. No, Safeway doesn’t get to veto art unless it openly defames them. Not a huge one. They also get to have a community supported PR boon.

    Yeah, I know, it’s preposterous, but that’s what I’d do if I were God. Remind yourselves not to vote for me when I run for God. For reals, if I’m elected I’ll paint all your shit, arbitrarily too.

  49. We Fight Blight

    I attended the meeting and was disappointed in the lack of vision from the neighbors. This is a great opportunity to redefine the corner of College and Claremont with a signature building, a public plaza and outdoor dining.

    As with many projects in North Oakland and Berkeley, there appears to be a highly vocal minority that claims to represent “the Community” in its opposition to the project. This tactic is used time and time again to try leverage projects for concessions, kill projects, or get then severely down-scoped.

    While there were many “absurd” comments expressed at the meeting, the most disturbing is that the structure should be one story because anything taller is out of scale and not in character to Rockridge. There could be nothing further from the truth. Across the street on College and Claremont are a range of buildings from one to four stories, with the majority being between two and three stories. These heights are consistent throughout all of Rockridge’s commercial corridor. In my opinion what looks out of scale are the one story structures adjacent to three and four story buildings. They seem to cry out for housing on a second and third floor. Most of the commercial structures, with few exceptions, have been developed from lot line to lot line. As well, many of the residential structures on major thoroughfares (College, Claremont, Alcatraz, Broadway) are also two or more stories.

    What Safeway needs to do via slides/photos or other graphic images is to remind the community what the existing scale really is in Rockridge and how their proposed building envelop is consistent with the typical scale and lot coverage. That said, the facade facing the corner of Claremont and College (site of the Union 76 Gas Station) should be at least three or four stories to frame and define the intersection. Anything shorter would be a travesty, particularly since nearby buildings range up to four stories.

    Several people, such as Alcatrazy, have made somewhat fuzzy comments about Rockridge being Rockridge and that we are not San Jose, Hayward, or any other “lesser” community and we want a development that reflects Rockridge. Yet, they fail to define the essential elements of what makes Rockridge Rockridge. The suburban model represented by the existing Safeway store surrounded by a sea of parking is the exception in Rockridge. The lot coverage, building heights and the definition along the street with pedestrian oriented uses as represented in the proposed design and the sketches shown at the last meeting are many of the features that makes Rockridge Rockridge at least in building envelope and site layout.

    It seems that part of what makes people upset is that it is a corporate entity and not some small mom and pop operation. When people start bashing corporations or chains, I like to remind them that most corporations and chains were once small businesses that become quite successful.

  50. Oaktown Cyclist

    Just want to bring up how little fuss there was for the Safeway remodel in the Dimond District, which basically, was just an updating of the building.

    With the all new additions to the neighborhood: La Farine, Peet’s Coffee, Farmer Joe’s, and that new Japanese restaurant (I can’t think the name of) maybe something different could have been done there.

  51. Patrick

    I’m not against Safeway, or any other corporation, per se. I also can not pretend to know what makes Rockridge “Rockridge-y”. What I’m against is lame architecture. According to Becks, the rendering at the top of this post is no longer the current proposal. However, as I have not seen the current proposal, I was commenting on the concept shown. And it is my belief that the use of multiple architectural styles (by my count at least 10), in an attempt to minimize the impact of a huge structure, is misguided. Parts may appeal, but the overall result is mediocre at best. Few seem to oppose what is inside the structure, but rather what we see on the outside. If Safeway can afford to pay an architect to revise the exterior over and over, why not pay a better architect to design something truly distinctive and attractive? Or, offer three plans and offer it up for a friendly neighborhood vote? People love to vote. And, after they’ve placed their vote, they have also given Safeway their tacit approval to build.

  52. Max Allstadt

    thanks, V

    My only comment on the newer sketches is that the water feature on the corner is a bad idea. Also, I really don’t like the idea of private ownership of flat paved space contiguous with the public way. Particularly in this case. If the idea is to back off of the wedge corner to make if feel like a public square, go all the way and take the corner back for the city with iminent domain or something. I am totally opposed to having a situation where a corner that prominent is policed by some Safeway paid security guard, for safeway’s interests and not ours.

    Why? There will be no street performers if we let a mall security guard run the show. If we have another grocery union strike, that space will be off limits. All sorts of other reasons. I hate JLS for the same reason. Public space should be public. Allowing private ownership of the public square is a backdoor to eroding the constitution.

  53. Patrick

    I saw the new sketches and they really don’t tell us much. The renderings we have show the massing and setbacks required to build a two story 50000+ sq. ft. building, with first floor parking, on that site. And, although the designs may well differ in the details, there is only so much you can do to mask a building of that size. At the risk of seeming “wantonly manipulative”, here is a link to a proposed store in Los Gatos: I think it is fair to say that this rendering further elucidates the new Safeway “look”: variable setbacks, alternating roof height and styles, an eclectic assortment of “pastchitecture” to borrow a phrase, and similar overall finishes to tie it all together. I also think the angle of view represented gives a better impression of what these types of design elements look like when built. My Google search to find links to renderings was very interesting; it seems that this same fight over Safeway’s rebuilding plans is taking place all over the country. I agree with Max (and by extension Chris Kidd) that a public space at the wedge corner is a mistake, not only for the reasons Max detailed, but because buildings that take architectural advantage of those corners are generally much more striking, in my opionion.

  54. Hiroko Kurihara

    Hi Everyone,
    I’ve been lucky to live one block away from the intersection of Claremont and College for the past 11 years and have participated in neighborhood design in varying degrees. I hope that a groundswell of people who have shared their perspectives on this site can come together to provide a voice for YES-in-My-Back-Yard!

    There are 3 to 5 story buildings surrounding this major intersection and I strongly believe that the project could be 5 stories at the corner that transitions down to 2 stories abutting residential buildings given the immediate and regional context. Moreover, the neighborhood needs to have more equitable access by people with mixed incomes by providing a diversity of housing options. Housing and/or offices above ground floor uses supports local businesses and realizes the true intention of the current C-31 zoning of generating more pedestrian activity.

    Development principles should incorporate:

    - Advanced architectural expression (not mimicry)
    - Sustainable design (high-density, solar/wind/green building materials, multi-modal transit oriented, ped safety, bike, car share, shuttle stop, car pool area);
    - 2 to 3 storeys of AFFORDABLE/Mixed income housing (e.g. flexible housing for seniors with grandchildren who go to nearby schools);
    - Useable outdoor civic space (where’s the music and art?)
    - Accessible Community gathering/meeting space at the corner, as a cornerstone of community building)
    - Supporting local economies and on-going community involvement

    The Bay Area will continue to grow, and if Safeway (it’s origins in serving people who are homeless) would consider not-for-profit development partnerships, utilizing State granted density bonuses, and innovative community/retail design, they would, once again, be a visionary company involved in advancing sustainable, equitable urban planning practices.

    Hiroko Kurihara
    62nd street
    ULTRA Co-Founder, member
    Urbanists for Livable Temescal Rockridge Area

  55. Becks

    Max – the water feature seen in the sketches is kind of a placeholder. The architect is proposing some prominent feature in that plaza, but it may or may not include water. It could be a huge piece of art, which I’m guessing you’d like better.

  56. len raphael

    to step back from this particular project, what do some of you anti nimby people suggest to avoid the typical adversarial scenario where the owner/developer girds for expected attack by asking for the max, putting in stuff that they probably didn’t want either, and the most strongly opiniated immediately effected residents take extreme positions also.

    i keep hearing that a combo of rules and regulations interpreted by the zoning board and zoning dept pros can substitute for that duke out and bring certainty to the developer. has that been achieved anywhere in the usa where there are articulate upper middle class residents?

    -len raphael

  57. V Smoothe Post author

    Len –

    People say that, but I’m skeptical. Look at this Safeway, for example. The company put forth a proposal clearly conforming to the dictates and completely consistent with the stated intent of the neighborhood’s self-written C-31 zoning, and still, people vehemently oppose it.

  58. We Fight Blight


    On the website, Safeway on College, Safeway has included a link to A Better Oakland. So yes this dialogue is apparently being monitored by Safeway.

    At the last meeting, when some residents used the royal “we” and “the Community” in framing their opposition to certain elements of the project, the Safeway representatives were quick, and rightly so, to point out that there are differing opinions about the project. Some commentators/stakeholders, in a rather myopic fashion, dismissed that notion.

    Obviously, there are a wide range of ideas and opinions. Unfortunately, the are just not being shared at the stakeholder meetings, with the exception of a few people like Becks. These ideas and support for turning an outdated suburban development into a pedestrian oriented signature development need to be articulated at the next meeting, as well as in direct comments to Safeway. It is important to counterbalance the lack of vision and opposition posited by nearby neighbors who want a paint and patch job.

  59. Max Allstadt

    Actually Becks, I’d rather see a public gathering space than big art. Some simple but elegant multi-level benches or something like it. Or better yet, cantilever over the corner with some kind of shade structure. The reason I’m wary of big art is that we’re already going down the path of design by mob. I fear that leading to a piece of art that would be hated by all within 10 or 15 years.

    You know what, if you’re going to do art or a feature on the corner, do it like this:

    Put in a grid of threaded holes designed to accept 1 inch bolts. Hold competitions for sculptures that bolt on to the grid and take up the space for a two year term. This keeps the art dynamic and up to date, and creates a format that’s easy to administer. More importantly, it presents opportunities for types of public sculpture that wouldn’t be viable if they had to stay standing for decades. Artists could work in unpainted wood, in live foliage, in fiberglass, in heavy fabrics or leathers. All sorts of new possibilities open up when the durability requirement is reduced. It could even be seasonal, we have such distinct dry seasons in Oakland that art could be made to cater to sun or to rain. Weather powered art!

  60. dto510

    The main problem with a plaza at the intersection of Claremont and College is that it’s really noisy and unpleasant. Nobody is going to want to hang out there.

  61. Max Allstadt

    There is entirely too much asphalt in the general vacinity, and I can see how traffic would make it undesireable. Maybe a strong feature on the corner could help shield a plaza. Build to the corner or leave a public plaza though. No private control of public outdoor space.

  62. Chris Kidd

    The only way people would ever spend time in a plaza like that is if you created a strong buffer zone between the plaza and the monstrously large intersection. That’d be tough to do considering you would need at least two curb cuts to facilitate crosswalks. Even then, with the increased sound and pollution in that intersection, it wouldn’t be a sure bet.

    This whole ‘building donwards to the corner’ thing still boggles my mind. Frame the intersection apprpriately and make it a more inviting interesting place. They should really be building down *from* the corner so as to better integrate the building into the surrounding neighborhood where it abuts other buildings.

  63. len raphael

    dt, perfectly logical that people wouldn’t want to hang out at a plaza on a busy intersection. that’s why i’m mystified by the crowded sidewalk tables at bb’s on tele and 51st. people must be so desperate for a cafe scene they’ll put up with that unpleasant traffic clogged intersection.

    v, on a much small scale of change, neighbors in temescal came to an efficient understanding w kaiser on renovating the old welfare bldg on 49th and bway. if anything the planning commissioners annoyed community and kaiser by imposing addtl design changes. one of the commissioners made kaiser and neighbors shake heads when the commish wanted kaiser to build high density housing instead of a rehab.

    max et al: why are you so incensed by aging (time waits for no man) nimby’s wanting to protect their economic interests via the planning process when design review is required? is it because it’s a “taking”? you like some takings eg. eminent domain by city to assemble viable parcels?

    granted, nimbys never frame their position as an economic one. that’s not pc.
    but that’s not so much hypocracy as it is tactics.

    or is it that nimbys opposition usually violates a “greatest good for greatest number” ethic that nimbys hold on to what they have instead of sharing?

    -len raphael

  64. James H. Robinson

    At least these people get a Safeway. I would love to see a Safeway (or any other supermarket) at Foothill Square shopping center.

  65. Joanna

    Rajbot, your response is right on the money! While our neighborhood has had some issues with height issues (the Embarcadero Canyon is coming to life slowly), we’ve been begging for a grocery store for years. I don’t think we’d be complaining about “San Jose” architecture. Give some ideas of how you’d like to see the design improved. More the issue seems to be fear of change.

    Turn things around from a different perspective. Dream for a moment that you own the land and you want to maximize your investment. Are you going to build something mediocre? Probably. And doesn’t this give the offending (imho) existing Safeway spot a new lease on life for improvement? Maybe you could have an 8-story parking garage there. (we’re getting one in the midst of the residential part of the Jack London District)

    At two stories, I just don’t see how these people have a complaint. Traffic flow already sucks through there and might be improved with stop lights that will probably come along with the new project. If I owned a biz in that area, I’d be pumped up that foot traffic would definately improve.

    Seriously? Can we have it here in the Jack London District????? There’s space in the ground floor of the parking garage….


  66. Navigator

    You know, there are times when too much community input actually has a negative affect on the development. Let’s take a look at the condo developments in Jack London Square as an example. The “Allegro” development was one of the first developments in JLS, and because of intense public outcry that it looked like “a suburban Walnut CreeK” development, we ended up with a diminished and rather unattractive boxy development. That endless neighborhood input has set the tone for many other housing developments in Jack London Square. The area is now full of charmless, squat, four to five story buildings. There are times that NIMBY’s spoil a good project with endless complaining and endless input. Let Safeway improve that intersection.

    There’s nothing wrong with adding additional street level storefronts to what is now a parking lot which interrupts the contiguous small business charm and the pleasant pedestrian experience of that wonderful part of Oakland. Oakland needs development. It’s time NIMBY’s step aside for the good of the entire city.

  67. Joanna

    Come on, Nav… the finished Allegro looks nothing like the original drawings. For one thing, it’s a whole floor taller than the original plan – but the floors aren’t as tall so they still came in around the same height as the original plan. The windows look nothing like the drawings, and much of the design was not detailed in the original plans. When I talk to others about this project from the approval process, the intention was to make it look like an old warehouse that was re-habbed. It certainly wasn’t the intention that it look like it came from Walnut Creek! The issues had to do with being in the “Historic Waterfront Warehouse District.

    The Allegro was a disaster in terms of construction – it was original two different developers and two different construction companies. A crane fell, pile driving went on at all hours of the day, and on the weekends. The supposed “retail space at ground level” that was required, wasn’t required to be actually functional. It seriously looks hardly anything like the original drawings. When the project sold before completion, other things changed as well. It’s because of Allegro that people did get more involved in other projects built in the area.

    And the Sierra? The original developer went bust during construction and it sat vacant for some time. A new developer came in, but wanted to change requirements and in our opinion probably won some of the changes with City Planning because it was either that or let the shell be vacant longer.

    The projects built after that are probably all the better for community involvement, although personally I don’t think the architecture is anything to write home about. Aqua Via is my personal favorite and I love it when people think that it’s an original warehouse that was rehabbed. On the other hand, I don’t love it so much when they think Allegro’s building C (on 3rd between Jackson & Alice) is ugly just because it’s a rehab. The new paint is an improvement, but I personally don’t care for the overall effect. I do like the dark brown at ground level, but abhor the light gray at the top.

    I live in Tower Lofts, which was a true warehouse conversion done in 1994-1995. We painted our building last year and now people seem to think it’s one of the new buildings. Ugh!

    I think it’s funny that on the one hand we complain about NIMBY’s, but on the other hand complain that people don’t get involved in the process. We complain that people show up to make comments, but then automatically label them as NIMBY’s.

    Personally, I don’t get the complaints about the Safeway project on College, but have they talked about what they do want and are those complaining the majority? They appear to be pretty well organized, which is something that the Jack London District lacked. Here, people complain after a project starts, not when it’s in the planning stages. That’s why I worked so hard in creating the Jack London News to get the info out there BEFORE it was too late. I was labeled a NIMBY (mislabeled, imho), but I wanted the incoming projects to be the very best. I didn’t want another Allegro.

    By the way, I long since made lemonade out of lemons by opening a store in the Allegro. But I’ll be the first to admit that it has been a serious struggle. I was the first retail store, but only the cafe, locksmith, and dry cleaners are there as “neighborhood serving retail”. The rest is office space. And based on how it was built, that’s probably all it will ever be.


  68. len raphael

    another example (i don’t know if the process was smooth or acrimonius) of a good output from the push and shove of nimbys, is the building at Piedmont Ave and Pleasant Valley.

    an example of bad nimbyism were the attacks on the College Ave near Bway project developed by the same architect who did the Piedmont design (Curt something). The neighbors were brutal. Max, you think old nimbys are bad? When they’re bad, young nimbys are much much worse. I listened to one 30 something gal come right out and complain that she didn’t pay 800k for a small house in rockridge only to have tennants in the proposed building look into her yard. One of the residents was telling me how a big concern was new young home owners didn’t want to have renters living too close.

    yes, it looked like a great project.

  69. Navigator

    Joanna, I’m glad that you’re so involved in Jack London Square. The neighborhood seems well organized and contributes very much to the ongoing improvements in the district. It’s great the way the neighbors get together for neighborhood clean ups. Also, with the increasing population, you guys really deserve a grocery store. I’m pulling for you to get something on the ground floor of the new garage.