College Ave Project: Safeway, 1 ; Neighborhood, Zip

Planning Commission Approves College Avenue Safeway Project; RCPC Joins Berkeley Residents in Appeal
Thursday, September 6, 2012

At the end of a four-hour long hearing dominated by neighborhood residents opposed to the project, the Oakland Planning Commission unanimously approved Safeway's College Avenue Safeway Shopping Center Project at a public meeting July 26. RCPC's attorney, Michael Graf, joined by Rockridge and neighboring Berkeley residents, objected to the project's traffic, parking, air quality, toxics, and visual impacts, and cited its inconsistency with the zoning and general plan designations for the site.

Several College Avenue merchants related their concerns about how the project will damage Oakland's most successful neighborhood shopping district.

The Planning Commissioners brushed all concerns aside, saying it was more important that the new project would provide construction jobs and benefit Safeway's employee union.

Only five of the seven commissioners participated in the decision. Commissioner Huntsman (who also supports the project) was absent, and newly-appointed commissioner Jim Moore recused himself because he had already spoken and written a letter in favor of the Safeway proposal before being appointed to the commission. Commissioner Chris Pattillo stated she thought the project would benefit this part of College and Claremont (even though the project places an employee parking lot and loading docks on its Claremont Avenue frontage, contrary to the C-31 zoning standards).

Oakland planner Peterson Vollman dismissed the many impacts identified by speakers as inconsequential, saying all were properly addressed in the project's environmental impact report (EIR). He also said he expected the city of Berkeley to accept the proposed intersection "improvements" intended to mitigate the project's impacts on Berkeley streets. This despite the Berkeley City Council having, a week earlier, unanimously voted to reject the improvements and to restate its strong opposition to the project. Vollman also asserted that the project was fully consistent with the site's general plan designation and zoning because it would be a better fit than the existing Safeway store.

Commissioner Pattillo did express concern about the project's parking insufficiency, particularly during construction, and its impact on the already-congested College-Claremont intersection. She suggested placing diagonal parking on Claremont, a proposal staff vetoed as infeasible, and asked that staff continue to investigate how to address the intersection's problems.

Berkeley Residents and RCPC File Formal Appeal

RCPC and an ad-hoc group of 54 Berkeley residents – joined by Berkeley City Councilmembers Wozniak and Worthington – have appealed the planning commission's decision to the Oakland City Council. According to planner Vollman, the appeals will likely not be heard by the council until late October. A summary of the Planning Commission hearing and copies of the appeal letters can be found on the Rockridge.org website.

Community Donations Sought for Appeal and Legal Costs

RCPC is collecting donations in support of the appeal through its Rockridge Legal Defense Fund. Mail checks to RCPC, 4123 Broadway, PMB 311, Oakland, CA 94611. Make online donations at www.rockridge. org. (Tax ID no. 94-3011284).