CUPERTINO – A new battle is brewing over Vallco, with an impending stalemate between the city and state housing authorities as they are breathing new life into community efforts to derail the massive planned development that has been making waves in the Bay Area for years.
The question is whether a special permit to release the Vallco Town Center – which would bring 2,402 residential units, 400,000 square feet of retail and 1.8 million square feet of office space to the suburb of Cupertino – expires this month. The state says it will not – an opinion that Cupertino officials have dismissed as “deeply flawed”.
The disagreement could set the stage for a showdown between Cupertino and the state at a time when local officials across California scrub under the new mandates Sacramento is forcing them to approve more housing.
While the expiry of Vallco’s special permit is unlikely to sink the project – the developer can apply for a one-year extension – a group of local residents who have been fighting the project for years are taking the opportunity to rekindle their struggle.
It’s the latest drama in a year-long saga that has included a referendum, multiple lawsuits, and hours of heated debates in the council chambers late into the night. After numerous false starts and setbacks by the city and some residents, the Sand Hill Property Company was granted special SB 35 permit in 2018 – a new law that obliges cities to approve and expedite qualified residential and mixed-use projects. The city says the permit will expire on September 21.
The state Ministry of Housing and Community Development attempted to correct the city’s SB 35 interpretation earlier this month by stating that the developer should be given additional time before the permit expires because the project was embroiled in a legal battle. Sand Hill denied a lawsuit in May 2020 that sought to derail the project.
Interim City Manager Greg Larson said the developer has not yet applied for an extension. In a report to the city council, Larson listed several concerns about the project, including more soil pollution at the site than previously known, questions about the project’s planned rooftop park, and a disagreement between the city and the developer over $ 125 million in impact fees .
“Vallco will have to explain why it took nearly five years to really address the toxins on the ground,” wrote Larson in his statement. “As for the state’s Department of Housing,” he added, “their time would better be spent investigating why SB 35 is being used to push through massive commercial development that is compounding the Silicon Valley housing crisis.”
Reed Molds, managing director of project developer Sand Hill Property Company, cited litigation over development and “exceptional staff turnover” at the city – which has gone through four city managers and three city attorneys since the project was launched – as the reason for the delays.
“Progress has not been as rapid as we would have liked, but significant progress has still been made and construction is slated to begin shortly,” Molds wrote in an email. “The Vallco Town Center, which we have envisioned together over the years, is about to rise.”
When asked how the government agency would react to Cupertino’s disregard of its guidelines, spokeswoman Alicia Murillo said: “HCD is currently examining the next steps.”
As the state intensifies its efforts to get out of the lack of affordable housing, it cracks down on cities that it finds are not allowing enough new housing. The state threatened to sue Cupertino in 2019 for failing to meet its housing production obligations, and the city eventually gave way. In May, the state of Cupertino warned that its new regulation on affordable housing did not meet state mandates.
“The amount of personal legal advice we receive from the state is alarming and abnormal,” said Neil Park-McCinkenick, chairman of the Cupertino for All housing group. “I think if you continue down this path, you will open us up to a lawsuit. And we would lose. And it’s just millions of dollars down the drain. “
Meanwhile, Better Cupertino, a group that has been fighting the Vallco Project for years, is using the September 21 expiration date as a rally to renew their efforts.
“NOW is an excellent time to remind the city council and city staff that we still reject this development and this developer,” the group wrote on their website, encouraging people to write to council members.
However, Molds expressed the hope that, under the guidance of the state, Cupertino officials “will understand their obligations and deal with them to move this project forward”.
“Although some continue to build roadblocks, we know the benefits of our investment in Vallco Cupertino and we won’t let that put us off,” he said.