Planning Commission Unanimously Approves Safeway's Rockridge Shopping Center Project

Saturday, October 5, 2013

After a two-hour public hearing on September 25, the Oakland Planning Commission unanimously approved Safeway's plans for rebuilding the Rockridge Shopping Center, located at the corner of Broadway and Pleasant Valley Avenue.

Safeway's proposal, changed many times in the past six years, will replace all of the current buildings and add 120,000 square feet to the shopping center's present 185,000 sq. ft. of commercial space. It will significantly change circulation patterns for the area, including an added traffic signal at Coronado and Broadway, the location for a new main entrance to the center.

Unlike the commission's acrimonious hearings for Safeway's College Avenue shopping center, testimony at this hearing was almost all favorable. The dissenting voice was ULTRA (Urbanists for a Livable Temescal-Rockridge Area), a primarily Temescal-based community group favoring high-density residential development.

It objected to the lack of a residential component to the project, its automobile orientation, and a drive-through window for the new Chase Bank. David Zylstra, COO of Safeway's property development division, said Safeway's lease with the owner of the project site prohibited residential development.

Zylstra also said Safeway was looking at establishing holiday-season shuttle service to Rockridge and Macarthur BART stations. Safeway will also improve placement and design of AC Transit stops near the site and is discussing with Kaiser Permanente adding the center to the route of Kaiser's local shuttle. He admitted he would have preferred no drive-through window, but said Chase insisted. Since Chase has a long-term lease and could block the project, Safeway had to give in.

RCPC's and PANIL's (Piedmont Avenue Neighborhood Improvement League) favorable comments resulted from a last-minute agreement with Safeway. Besides clarifying the project's conditions of approval, the agreement requires Safeway to pay for traffic surveys on nearby residential streets before and after the project's construction and occupancy. Safeway will also post a $500,000 bond: If the traffic surveys show that the project has increased "cut-through" traffic on those streets, the bond will pay for implementing speed bumps, stop signs, and rotaries to discourage through traffic diversion onto those streets. Increased cut-through traffic had been a major fear in the community.

The commission also certified the final Environmental Impact Report (EIR) for the project. The EIR acknowledged the project would worsen traffic conditions at the Broadway/Pleasant Valley/51st Street intersection, and other intersections on Pleasant Valley. Accordingly, the commission adopted a formal statement explaining why the project's benefits justified its approval. Those benefits include more jobs for local residents, additional tax revenue for the city, more convenient shopping for area residents, and reducing the loss of retail revenue into surrounding cities such as Emeryville and Walnut Creek.

Project opponents could appeal the approval to the council within 10 days.