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At Last! A New Downtown Safeway Approved

Construction could begin in late summer early fall, taking 10 months to complete.

Goodbye 1967, hello 2013: Downtown Los Altos is getting a new Safeway supermarket.

The Los Altos City Council unanimously approved plans Tuesday night for a 45,000-square-foot store at its First Street location, replacing the 22,500-square-foot decaying facility built 45 years ago.

The packed audience at City Hall applauded in delight—and perhaps relief—after the vote. Some estimated it had been 15 years of waiting since Safeway officials first expressed interest in replacing the store.

“The first time I stepped foot in Safeway was in 1972, a long time ago, and it really isn’t any different now than it was then, so it’s time to make a change,” said Los Altos Chamber of Commerce President David Bergman. He told the council a new Safeway “will make for an active, vital downtown with great opportunities for business. People will choose to come down because of the decisions you are making tonight.”

Not one speaker out of 14 was against the proposed two-story building, with the store on the second floor and parking below. The plan includes a unique shared parking plan with the city, making 129 of its 154 spaces available for 90-minute public parking. 

“I appreciate the outreach that the community, both business and residents, have shown to get us to this point, and I believe in the end we have a great project that will be well embraced by the community with a timely construction,” Councilmember David Casas said after the vote.

Barring any delays, construction could get underway in late summer or early fall, and would take about 10 months to complete, placing a reopening possibly in summer 2013, according to Safeway representative Deborah Karbo. 

The parking agreement was a main sticking point and the subject of lengthy negotiations between Safeway executives and the city, led by Councilmember Ron Packard. As a large, stand-alone store with its own parking, Safeway would not have met the city’s parking requirements. By joining the downtown parking district with additional parking directly across the street, however, Safeway's 154 on-site parking spaces exceeds the standards.

Safeway officials agreed to pay $500,000 to be a part of the parking district. If they choose to leave the district within five years, they must pay $2.75 million to the city. Ater five years, that amount lowers to $1 million. However, if the city approves a downtown project without adequate parking, Safeway could leave the district for only $500,000.

The parking agreement was so unique it was reviewed by all levels of Safeway management, up to the chairman of the board, Packard said.

City officials wanted the parking time-limit to match the two-hour or three-hour limits in the city’s plazas, but Safeway executives remained firm that anything above 90 minutes was a deal-breaker.

Also of concern was a proposed sound wall along Foothill Expressway to protect University Avenue residents directly across the road from the rear loading dock from disruption of both sound and light. Originally set at 19 feet, some residents were concerned the wall would be too massive and bulky. Safeway sound engineers said a 14-foot wall would suffice. A few University Avenue residents who spoke said they were fine with the lower height.

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