A shot taken Dec. 5 by video cam of the Safeway lot on College and Claremont.
A shot taken Dec. 5 by video cam of the Safeway lot on College and Claremont avenues.

Update 1/24/14: After three months of no activity, Safeway is reporting that construction resumed on the new Safeway store on Jan. 21. The company finally received a building permit from the city of Oakland after it consulted with the Rockridge Community Planning Council and other community groups, according to the Safeway website.

“As you may remember, Safeway signed a settlement agreement over a year ago with several Rockridge community groups that required Safeway to confer with them about major design refinements after the City of Oakland approved the project for construction.  Over the past five months, we have had very productive meetings with these community groups regarding design changes that were needed in order to accommodate the store’s structural and operational systems.  We have now reached a point in those discussions where we can resume activity at the site, while continuing to communicate with the community groups as construction progresses.”

Original story: For the past two months, there has been no construction at the site of the new Safeway store at College and Claremont avenues on the Oakland-Berkeley border.

The Pleasanton-based company halted work on the project after Oakland stopped processing its building permit. Oakland took that step because Safeway had violated its 2012 agreement with neighborhood groups to discuss major design changes before submitting a permit application to the city.

Once the permit was delayed, Safeway did start meeting with three neighborhood groups, which include the Rockridge Community Planning Council, Friends and Neighbors of College Avenue, and Berkeleyans for Pedestrian Oriented Development.

The groups found that Safeway’s building plans differed from the conceptual design approved by Oakland in 2012. For structural reasons, Safeway had decided to make the grocery complex five feet higher, according to Stuart Flashman, an Oakland attorney involved with the Rockridge Community Planning Council. After a number of meetings, Safeway agreed to lower the building height by two and a half feet and remove the large “Rockridge” sign it had planned for the roof as a mitigation measure for the extra height, among other agreements, said Flashman.

The two sides reached a verbal agreement in early November, but no progress has been made since then, said Flashman. Safeway brought in its attorneys to review the settlement and they have been adding clauses and provisions ever since, he said.

“We thought we had an agreement on how to resolve this,” said Flashman. “Then Safeway handed it over to its attorneys and it’s been a problem since then.”

Safeway declined to talk to Berkeleyside, but Keith Turner, Safeway’s director of public and government affairs, sent an email: “Thanks for keeping an eye on the project. We expect to resume construction after the holidays. We have been working with RCPC and other community groups to negotiate the final points of the mandated settlement agreement.”

A bird's-eye view of plans for a new Safeway on College Avenue. Source: Lowney Architecture
A bird’s-eye view of plans for the new Safeway at the intersection of College and Claremont avenues. Source: Lowney Architecture
A bird’s-eye view of plans for the new Safeway at the intersection of College and Claremont avenues. Source: Lowney Architecture

The new Safeway store will be a “lifestyle store” with pharmacy, bakery, butcher and in-store Starbucks. It will replace the one built in 1964, which was small and had a large surface parking lot.

After Safeway’s initial design drew strong protests from the neighborhood, Safeway agreed to reduce the size of the store to 45,000 square feet, to bring it down to street level rather than position it on the second floor, to limit the type of retail at the site, and to pay for residential parking permits for neighbors in perpetuity.

The agreement between Safeway and the neighborhood was eight years in the making and in its final hours was brokered by former Oakland City Councilwoman Jane Brunner during a 12-hour mediation session in November 2012. It required Safeway to almost start the design work from scratch.

The old store closed on July 8 this year. On Aug. 6, Safeway kicked off its rebuilding project with a groundbreaking ceremony that drew Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and other notables. It took about a month to tear down the old store and grade the lot. Trucks have carted out 11,000 cubic yards of dirt to be used at another location, according to the project’s website.

Safeway had hoped to open the new store in July 2014.

Demolition starts on Safeway on College Avenue (08.06.13)
Safeway on College to close July 8 for major rebuild (07.02.13)
Residents air concerns about College Ave. Safeway plans (12.17.12)
Safeway on College needs all-new design after mediation (11.15.12)
Breaking: Neighbors, Safeway agree on College Ave. store (11.13.12)
Op-Ed: Why I support plans for the Safeway on College (11.12.12)
Revamped Safeway opens in heart of Gourmet Ghetto (10.05.12)
Oakland Planning Commission approves Safeway plans (07.27.12)
Berkeley Council unites in opposing Safeway project (07.18.12)
Berkeley City Council to hold hearing on Safeway project (09.20.11)
Locals protest scale, traffic of proposed Rockridge Safeway (08.01.11)
Safeway buys Berkeley’s Chimes Pharmacy, to consolidate (07.12.11)

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Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...