Oakland's Planning Commission has given the green light to Safeway to completely raze its current site at 51st and Broadway. Image: JRDV Architects
Oakland’s Planning Commission has given the green light to Safeway to raze its current site at 51st and Broadway. Image: JRDV Architects
Oakland’s Planning Commission has given the green light to Safeway to raze its current site at 51st and Broadway. Image: JRDV Architects

By Karen Hester

[Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on LOAKAL, and has been reprinted here with the permission of its author, Karen Hester. Hester, a community advocate who has followed the Safeway project for years, shares her personal reflections of how the project approvals came about, and what it entails.]

For those of us who live in North Oakland, the redevelopment of the Safeway store and its surrounding parcels at 51st and Broadway is the biggest development to happen in the area for possibly the next 50 years, after MacArthur BART’s makeover. At its September meeting, the Oakland Planning Commission unanimously gave the green light to Safeway to completely raze the current site in two phases. Safeway has the master lease for the whole site and its main motivation has been to compete with the upscale and thriving markets in Oakland and Berkeley, including the Berkeley Bowls and the two Whole Foods, as well as Trader Joe’s. Another extreme makeover for the Safeway at College and Claremont also received Planning Commission approval last summer after a long fight with local neighbors. Demolition has already been completed on that site.

Image: JRDV Architects
Rockridge Safeway vision. Click to view larger. Image: JRDV Architects

What the project includes

The project involves the redevelopment of the existing Rockridge Shopping Center located at the corner of Broadway and Pleasant Valley Avenue, including demolition of all 185,500 square feet of existing buildings on the site and the construction of a new Safeway store and other retail, office and restaurant space, totaling approximately 330,942 square feet of commercial space (approximately 296,753 square feet of gross leasable floor area and an additional approximately 34,189 square feet of common space). A total of approximately 967 off-street parking spaces are proposed. Parking would be located in surface parking lots, on the rooftop of the new Safeway store, and in a three-level garage above commercial space. Also proposed are modifications to streets in the project vicinity, including changes to the Broadway/51st Street/Pleasant Valley Avenue, Broadway/Coronado Avenue, Broadway/College Avenue, Pleasant Valley Avenue/Gilbert Street, and Pleasant Valley Avenue/Montgomery Street intersections.

Rockridge Safeway. Image: JRDV Architects
Rockridge Safeway designs. Image: JRDV Architects

This document includes a lot of background info and drawings plus a simulation that takes you on a magic carpet ride (open in your browser to full screen) through the development. When the present architect (JRDV) presented the simulation at the Planning Commission meeting, most in attendance almost swooned as the scale of the project became real. Even though I have been a critic of the project since 2009 since the first incarnations were basically no more than window dressing, I had to give Safeway some cred. They saw the writing on the wall with a possible appeal to the City Council by RCPC (Rockridge Community Planning Council) and PANIL (Piedmont Avenue neighbors) so they sweetened the pot to $500,000 for a bond to pay for traffic calming measures in case the redevelopment caused major traffic uptakes in the adjoining neighborhoods. Those of us in ULTRA (Urbanists for a Livable Temescal and Rockridge Area) have been much more concerned about what the architecture would look like and the fact that it didn’t include any housing. Safeway claims it had no leverage to build housing since its lease forbids it but, if it had really wanted to, it and the city could have pushed the owner to include housing. Instead, Safeway claims that it can always build 79 units of housing over the surface parking lot at a later time. Oh well, we shall see.

Click to view larger. Image: JRDV Architects
Click to view larger. Image: JRDV Architects

Responding to the community

What the whole messy process showed was that, when the community groups came together and spoke as more or less one voice, Safeway and the Planning Commission had to listen. Heck, I was surprised when one idea I wrote on a sheet of ideas way back in 2009 was incorporated into the final design — a 1,000-square-foot community space. Now that inclusion was worth the time of going to that particular community input meeting! Now let’s hope Safeway makes the community space free to non-profits, just as the local libraries do. Otherwise I’ll have another bone to pick with them. The only real disappointment was the inclusion of a drive-through for the updated Chase bank. Geez, I feel like we are regressing to Texas suburban mall standards but maybe Chase can still be convinced to drop the drive through as the long term carbon footprint it will create is ridiculous for an urban infill project.

Karen Hester is a community activist and events coordinator who lives in North Oakland in Temescal Creek Cohousing. Her event productions website is hesternet.net. She lives and breathes the fight to stop more billboards in Oakland and started ScenicEastBay.org

Freelance writers with story pitches can email editors@berkeleyside.com.