Land Use Update - Rockridge Shopping Center Rebuild and Expansion Project, Broadway & Pleasant Valley Avenue

Saturday, March 2, 2013

This project proposes to replace the current Rockridge Shopping Center with an expanded center, including a larger (65,000 sq.ft.) Safeway store, more commercial retail space, and some professional offices, but no residential. Total usable space will increase by about 120,000 sq.ft. Although the March Rockridge News will have gone to press before the February Land Use Committee meeting, a lot has been happening with this project this month.

As reported in February’s Rockridge News, the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) was issued at the end of December, and comments were accepted through February 25. The Planning Commission held a public hearing on February 20 to receive oral comments. In addition, half of the February RCPC Town Hall meeting was devoted to discussing issues raised by the DEIR.

Perhaps the most striking thing about the DEIR was the number of newly-proposed street configuration changes for the area surrounding the project. The two existing uncontrolled slip lanes for right turns (from southbound Broadway onto 51st Street and from northbound Broadway onto Pleasant Valley Avenue) are proposed for removal, with the aim of improving bicycle and pedestrian safety. Also, the College Avenue and Broadway intersection would be redesigned to make it perpendicular. The redesign would allow cars (but not large trucks) to turn left from College onto Broadway. It would also slow traffic turning right onto Broadway from College, improving pedestrian and bicycle safety at the intersection.

Major Changes for Intersections

The major project impacts, both short term and long term, are on traffic. The Broadway/Pleasant Valley Avenue/51st Street intersection would see its already poor level of service worsen significantly. In the long term, delays at the Piedmont Avenue/Pleasant Valley Avenue intersection would also worsen significantly, and traffic from Howe Street would have more difficulty entering Pleasant Valley Avenue, especially for left turns. While other intersections (including intersections on 51st Street all the way to Shattuck Avenue) would be potentially impacted, those impacts could be mitigated by addition of turn lanes or updating and coordinating traffic signals.

While the DEIR dismissed the significance of cut-through traffic on nearby residential streets, RCPC’s analysis indicates some potential for impacts, including on Coronado Avenue and John Street. RCPC is asking that the EIR take another look at the significance of project-related cut-through traffic and how to mitigate it.

Despite the large increase in traffic and associated generation of carbon dioxide from vehicle exhaust, the DEIR concludes the project will actually decrease generation of greenhouse gases. The reason is that the current Safeway leaks large amounts of refrigerant gases from its aging refrigeration systems. The new Safeway would reduce this leakage by a factor of 10. This points up the desirability of the city adding to its Energy and Climate Action Plan a requirement that major users of refrigeration systems (e.g., supermarkets, cold storage warehouses) periodically upgrade their systems. (The state’s Air Resources Board has instituted a best management practices system for managing refrigerant leakage, but that system won’t apply to a store the size of the current Safeway until 2014, and doesn’t require replacement of leaky systems, only repair within two weeks of leak detection.)

RCPC continues to believe that the project would benefit from including an internal AC Transit bus station, as well as shuttle bus service to Rockridge and MacArthur BART stations. In addition, RCPC believes the site would be an appropriate location for some residential development. Each of these scenarios, however, requires the cooperation of either AC Transit or the property owner (which is not Safeway). Thus far, neither has agreed.

Responses to comments on the DEIR are likely to be released in late spring, followed by Planning Commission consideration of project approval, perhaps as early as June.