Safeway explores rebuild options at Ocean Beach

by Ed Moy

Safeway gave a presentation to members of the Planning Association for the Richmond (PAR) in July to discuss its plans to redevelop its Ocean Beach property, including a rebuild of its Safeway at the Beach store.

Organized by PAR, the meeting was held at the Richmond Recreation Center July 23. The meeting provided the first open forum for more than 35 PAR members and local residents of the Richmond to share their visions for the La Playa Safeway design concept.

According to Safeway Real Estate Manager Natalie Mattei, the La Playa Safeway would not be closed down during any future construction, which would take from 10 to 24 months to complete.

"We don't want to tear down the existing store and go out of business," Mattei said. "It's too vital to the community. It's too busy of a store to do that. It was a really big deal to do that at the Seventh Avenue store, but we really didn't have any choice because it was such a postage stamp site. But here we do have the ability to keep the existing store open."

Since acquiring the Ocean Beach lot last year, Safeway has filed an expansion application with the city of San Francisco to turn the property into a brand new state-of-the-art Safeway store with housing units and possibly individual retail shops.

Mattei said the plan would likely involve the building of the new store next door to the older dilapidated store so that Safeway would remain open during construction, with the older store being torn down after completion of the new store and housing units.

However, she added that it was not mandatory or required to build a mixed-use structure on the property, but that Safeway saw it as an opportunity to expand. It has not been determined how many housing units would be proposed for the Safeway site.

Among the major issues brought up at the meeting were concerns over noise, homeless people, panhandling, criminal activities in the parking lot, lack of security and potential Muni service changes that would affect accessibility to the area. There were also concerns over the number of parking spaces that would be available for shoppers, along with potential parking problems for residents in the area.

"If they're going to put residential housing on this block, and if there's not sufficient parking for the shoppers and not sufficient one-to-one parking for those housing units, that's going to negatively affect people living in the surrounding area," said Maria Sousa, chairperson of PAR's board of directors.

Addressing the parking concerns and the possibility of obstructed views and sight lines for residents of the surrounding area, Mattei pointed out that the new structure would probably include parking below-ground or on the roof of the structure, and that it would not be a huge high-rise structure because the property is zoned with a 40-foot height limit.

"We would probably be looking at some form of structured parking," Mattei said. "Whether we do some underground parking or whether we do some rooftop parking, we are very sensitive to the neighboring homeowners and residents. There's a lot that will go into developing the site plan."

Mattei estimated that about two-thirds of the existing lot's footprint would used to build the new Safeway store, with the rest allocated to additional parking, new housing units or retail shops.

"It's a weird site," Mattei said of the current store design. "Safeway is stuck right in the middle of that parking lot. We conceptually looked at it and said we'd like to build a new state-of-the-art Safeway store here. How do we do that? Where do we put it?"

Because there is an existing Muni bus layover station at the corner of La Playa and Cabrillo Street, along with several retail shops along La Playa Street, Mattei said the new Safeway store would likely be built closer to Fulton Street.

One couple that had lived in the area for the past five years voiced concerns over an on-going problem with late night noise, criminal activity and safety issues surrounding the Safeway parking lot.

"I think we do need to develop a security plan. I think it needs to go into action. I think it needs to be a joint effort between Safeway and the police department," Mattei said.

"Obviously Safeway's the key player here, but everything is always done in conjunction with the police, and so by our next meeting I would like to hopefully come back to you and you will have seen some improvements," she continued. "That's the promise I will make to you."

But another long-time LA Playa resident, Marilyn Pearson, pointed out that where the Muni bus layover and turnaround site exists is the same spot where La Playa condominium residents were promised a swimming pool and gymnasium by developers, who never followed through on their promises.

"You can't help but be a little bit negative about it all when you were promised the world before and gone through the duplicity of it all only to have somebody take those things away," Pearson said.

Nevertheless, Mattei remained positive about Safeway's future plans for redeveloping the La Playa store location.

"We'll be learning together as we go through the process," Mattei said, adding that a Web site with further information will likely be available for the public in the near future.

For updates on the Safeway at the Beach project, visit the PAR Web site at