Plans to demolish and rebuild the city’s 49-year-old Safeway store have been put on hold after City Councilwoman Gina Papan appealed the Planning Commission’s unanimous approval and privately urged the company to hire local union workers.
Papan told The San Francisco Examiner she appealed the Planning Commission’s Feb. 7 decision because she wanted the City Council to have a chance to review the final project. Otherwise, Safeway would not have needed the council’s approval.
But Papan and Mayor Daniel Quigg also held a closed-door meeting Monday with Safeway officials in which they urged the company to hire local and unionized workers to construct the 59,000-square-foot store at 525 El Camino Real.
Papan, who is running for San Mateo County supervisor, insisted the labor issues are “not a reason for an appeal,” but she said it “gave us an informal opportunity to encourage them to please hire locally.”
“I would hope that Safeway would work within the local community and we encourage them to do so,” Papan said. “We don’t want what’s happening in Burlingame to happen in Millbrae.”
Papan was referring to local union members who have picketed the construction of the Burlingame Safeway in part because the contractor hired out-of-town workers. Papan has the backing of more than a dozen labor unions for her supervisorial bid, including the powerful the San Mateo County Building and Construction Trades Council and the Central Labor Council.
Safeway spokeswoman Susan Houghton said the company was “caught off-guard by the appeal, especially because it had unanimous approval at the planning commission level and there was absolutely no citizen opposition.”
At the request of Papan and Quigg, Safeway agreed to share a list of local contractors with its vendors, Houghton said. But the company was also still unclear about the formal reason Papan’s appeal was filed, since her three-sentence Feb. 10 appeal e-mail had no specific concerns.
Papan declined to state any specific objections or questions she planned to ask at the April 12 council meeting, where the appeal is scheduled to be heard. But she said there’s “nothing wrong about us appealing to get a final review of what was presented.”
Houghton said Safeway plans to stick to its standard construction bidding process, which is to hire the lowest qualified bidder, regardless of union or local ties.
“We’re going to hire the best vendor for the job, regardless of affiliation,” Houghton said.
The company does not plan to start construction on the Millbrae store until January, but Houghton said the company had expected to initiate the bidding process by now. “We are on hold right now,” she said.
Hiring local construction workers has been a hot issue on the Peninsula since San Francisco passed a law last year requiring city residents to be hired for public projects. Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, introduced a bill last month to scale back the law.
Quigg said the city can’t force the company to hire local union workers, but he said encouraging such practices is “not untypical, especially during tough economic times when you know there’s a high unemployment rate in the county and you’d like to see your local people work.”
As Safeway tries to lock up approval for a rebuild of its Millbrae store, construction is under way on the long-awaited rebirth of an aging store in neighboring Burlingame.
Construction on the 45,000-square-foot Burlingame store is progressing well in its third month, one of 10 stores the company is building in the Bay Area, said Safeway spokeswoman Susan Houghton.
It took more than a dozen years for the company to get approval to replace the decades-old Burlingame store after residents raised objections in the late 1990s and the city council voted down a revised project in 2004.
An advisory body eventually formed and helped guide the design of the new building, which eventually won resident support and approval of the city council last year. The project also includes tearing down an old Walgreens store and adding a two-story mixed use building.
Safeway plans to finish construction in Burlingame by September, Houghton said. The Millbrae store would be demolished in late 2011 and would be finished by Thanksgiving 2012.
— Shaun Bishop