Oakland’s New Controversial 45,000 Sq. Ft. Safeway Just Opened

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"NEW ROCKRIDGE SAFEWAY"After eight years of plans and talks, including last-minute negotiations and many community meetings, Safeway has opened its new 45,500 square feet store on College Avenue, which is now about twice as large as the original store, built in the 1960s.

The new store has been controversial since it was first discussed, with local residents concerned about the size of the market as well as traffic impacts in the pedestrian-friendly shopping district of Rockridge.

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It will even include 24-hour section complete with organic produce, meat, seafood, pharmacy, and even a Starbucks coffee.

The building also includes an open plaza area with retail storefronts, soon to be occupied by tenants including local coffee chain Philz Coffee and Berkeley ice cream sandwich shop Cream.

But that’s not enough to sweeten Rockridge resident Susan Shawl on the new Safeway.

“It makes me very sad,” she said.

Neighborhood troubles with Safeway’s expansion date back to 2007. From the beginning, local residents were worried that a large store would dominate the cozy retail strip, and they raised concerns over more traffic and noise pollution. For Shawl, one of a group of neighbors that organized against a larger Safeway, that worry has come true.

“The traffic is going to be horrendous,” Shawl said, pointing out the parking lot ramp that leads to College Avenue.

Shawl and others — including the Rockridge Community Planning Council and Berkeleyans for Pedestrian-Oriented Development — mobilized in 2008 to oppose the original plans, which called for a larger store with a plain, unbroken facade along College Avenue. After vocal neighborhood opposition, the original designs were scrapped and Safeway turned to Ken Lowney, a Rockridge resident, who handled the popular Whole Foods renovation near Lake Merritt.

In 2012, a last-minute compromise was hammered out after a grueling all-day meeting between Safeway, local residents and then-Oakland City Council member for District 1, Jane Brunner. But Shawl feels let down by the city, who she feels let Safeway bend the rules.

And though neighborhood opposition won’t evaporate, from the company’s view Safeway is here to stay. Paradise, who has been with the project from the beginning, was optimistic.

What do you think about the new Oakland Safeway?

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