By Laura Fishman

A new and improved Safeway is coming to Mission Street, but surrounding neighbors are stirring up a controversy.

At 55,000-65,000 square feet, the new Safeway will be nearly twice as big as the current store and the largest Safeway in the county, according to company district manager Dave Olsen.

The current store will be demolished and made into a parking lot, while the larger one will be constructed behind the present location with a new entrance on Almar Avenue.

Many Westside Santa Cruz residents are unhappy with plans for a new mega-store because it involves putting up a traffic light at Mission Street and Miramar Drive that they feel will hold up cars and create more traffic. Miramar Drive would become a main city artery and all street parking would be removed.

UC Santa Cruz student Randy Avalos lives just off of Mission Street and is discouraged to drive to school because of the current traffic situation.

"Mission is always crowded, especially during the day," Avalos said. "It acts as a highway as it is designed as the main road when traveling on Highway 1. A new stoplight can bring in even more traffic."

But according to Safeway Public Affairs Director Jennifer Webber, the traffic light is crucial to avoid a dangerous situation. With the new entrance, cars turning left will have to cross at least two lanes of heavy traffic in a pedestrian-frequented area.

Safeway’s expansion plan was originally presented to the community in March of 2005. Shortly after, 185 community members signed a petition opposing the traffic signal at Mission Street and Miramar Drive.

"The petition was written in order to protect the Westside neighborhood and to educate the people about Safeway expansion," explained Miramar Drive resident Steve Czarnecki.

As a result of the petition, Safeway representatives, local residents, and members of the city planning committee have been coming together to discuss the expansion.

"We are having meetings with the neighbors so that we can come up with a plan that everyone will be happy with," Webber explained.

The meetings have been used to discuss ways to ensure a safe environment for shoppers, such as installing speed bumps and roundabouts.

"The purpose of these devices would be to reduce the speed of cars and slow down traffic," associate planner of the city planning committe Michael Ferry said. "It’s a safety issue."

Despite traffic concerns, some neighborhood residents are excited for Safeway’s development.

"The store needs cleaning up, it needs changing," said Gloria Murray, a senior citizen on Miramar Drive. "It’s just not that big."