Residents called it a monster, a mega-store, obscene in scope; the company that designed it arrogant and insensitive
A parade of speakers at Tuesday's city council meeting warned of the nonstop traffic jams that would accompany a new Safeway at College and Claremont avenues more than double the size of the existing store.
As it stands, motorists waiting to turn left into the Safeway parking lot from College Avenue can bring traffic to a standstill. One resident said she can walk faster than traffic moves on the street.
Others voiced fear that the large complex would threaten the livelihood of small businesses and the character of the neighborhood.
The 2.1-acre parcel sits on the Oakland side of the border, but because Berkeley would bear a heavy traffic burden, the city has the authority to demand suitable mitigation.
The expansion would impact four intersections:
- Ashby and College avenues
- Ashby and Claremont avenues
- Alcatraz and College avenues
- Alcatraz and Claremont avenues
Mitigations include a combination of added and coordinated traffic signals, reconfiguring lanes, moving an AC Transit bus stop and replacing diagonal parking with parallel parking. The city would not bear the costs; rather, Safeway would have to put the money into an escrow account.
A Safeway representative told the council the chain did not come to seek its blessing for the project -- only the traffic calming measures, which could still be altered to meet community approval.
"The store, as you know, is in Oakland," said Matt Francois. "Oakland can adopt a statement of overriding considerations and can adopt this project with or without these mitigation agreements."
Several speakers urged the council to clearly reject the traffic calming measures, lest the Oakland Planning Commission, which meets next week, takes its silence for acquiescence.
In the end, little talking was needed: The council voted unanimously to reject the rejiggered intersections and to oppose the new structure in its entirety.
"I come down on the side of saying, look: This project is too big and should not be built," Mayor Tom Bates said. "I don't want to do anything that will help or aid them in their ability to build this structure."
Not much has changed since 2011, when the Berkeley city manager fired off a letter to his Oakland counterpart detailing the council's objections to the expansion. Councilman Gordon Wozniak asked that the city resend the letter.
The Oakland Planning Commission meets at 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 25 in the Council Chambers, City Hall, 1 Frank Ogawa Plaza.