April 3, 2018

Silicon Valley Business Journal: What people are saying about Vallco, Silicon Valley’s first project to tap new housing streamlining law


Silicon Valley Business Journal reporter  interviewed Silicon Valley at Home’s (SV@Home) Deputy Director Pilar Lorenzana about a new proposal to redevelop the derelict Vallco Shopping Mall in Cupertino.

The plan was submitted under California State Senator Scott Wiener’s Senate Bill (SB) 35, which expedites the construction of housing near transit lines if 50% of the units are designated as affordable.

See the original story at the Silicon Valley Business Journal.

What people are saying about Vallco, Silicon Valley’s first project to tap new housing streamlining law

By Janice Bitters

In the 24 hours after Sand Hill Property Co. unveiled its vision to redevelop the near-empty Vallco Shopping Mall in Cupertino, reactions to Silicon Valley’s first project to invoke a newly passed and controversial housing streamlining law haven’t stopped.

Palo Alto-based Sand Hill on Tuesday submitted a plan to build 2,402 residential units alongside 400,000 square feet of retail space and 1.81 million square feet of office. Half of the residential units, which would rise in towers reaching up to 22 stories, would be considered below market rate and affordable to people of varying income levels.

The developer is invoking Senate Bill 35, a new state law that aims to tackle California’s housing crisis by speed up new residential development.

By conservative estimates of one employee per 200 square feet of office space, the 1.81 million square feet of office space could hold as many at 9,050 workers. Meanwhile, at a calculation of three residents per unit, the property could house somewhere around 7,200 people.

The submittal comes after the developer has tried, unsuccessfully, for years to redevelop the 1.2 million-square-foot, nearly empty shopping center along North Wolfe Road in Cupertino. Sand Hill has faced pushback from community members that in the past balked at the size of the development and potential traffic impacts.

Meanwhile, the shopping center has steadily emptied out and last week lost its most popular tenant, the AMC Theater, which in a statement this month promised to come back if the city approved a project for the site by the end of the year.

Cupertino officials are currently engaged in a community input process to create a new specific plan for the 58 acres that the mall currently sits on, but SB 35 gives the city 180 days to approve the project. Because it is using the housing streamlining bill, the project will be exempt from the environmental lawsuits that are common and often delay or completely derail projects in California.

Here is a roundup of what lawmakers, community members and housing advocates are saying about Vallco’s redevelopment plans and the new housing bill that prompted it:

SB-35’s author, State Sen. Scott Wiener on Wednesday praised the proposal and said it showed his bill was making “real changes” in Silicon Valley:

“Silicon Valley is at the heart of our economy, and it needs to be at the heart of our region’s housing production. Tripling the number of housing units, while also making 50 percent of them affordable shows that when we streamline housing production, we can make real changes that create new, affordable homes for thousands of people.

These will be people who will no longer have to commute long distances for their work, and who can live closer to their families and friends. To bring down housing costs and prevent the continued displacement of people in our communities, we simply need more homes in the Bay Area, and in California, particularly near major job centers. This new proposal is a great step forward.”

Meanwhile, affordable housing advocacy nonprofit SV@Home says the proposal is in line with the wishes of the “silent majority” in Cupertino:

“The Vallco Town Center will bring 1201 affordable units to Cupertino and increase the city’s stock of affordable housing five fold,” said Pilar Lorenzana, deputy director of the nonprofit, who had been in talks with Sand Hill regarding the proposal since about November of last year. She added:

“This is important, because Cupertino already has very few affordable housing units, and two-thirds of them are set expire within the next 10 years. Redeveloping Vallco will create opportunities for residents and workers to stay in the community and help local businesses fill open jobs.

We know there’s a silent majority that supports housing on the Vallco site, but there’s also a small but vocal group that’s afraid of progress and change. Over the course of many years, they’ve disrupted the planning process, and we’re concerned that their recent actions are sending us down the path of another failed planning process. We’re hopeful that SB 35 will create the space for local officials to do the right thing for this community by moving forward with housing at Vallco.”

Cupertino Mayor Darcy Paul says he’s waiting to weigh in:

“I want to give my staff some time to evaluate it [the proposal] and also because SB 35 is so new. I want to give us the untrammeled public perspective in terms of what our options are and what our obligations are,” he told the Business Journal on Wednesday, adding:

“With regard to the consultant driven specific plan process that Cupertino is undergoing, I know the land owner [Sand Hill] has expressly stated they would like the specific plan to go forward, and I would welcome that. It is an input mechanism that we have embraced. I thought mutually understood expectation was that there would be a project proposal in the aftermath of that, but I also understand Sand Hill’s right to use the state law.”

But will the community planning process move forward to create a new specific plan for the land? Paul says he’s looking to city staff members to tell him whether that is a wise use of public resources, so stay tuned on that.

Danessa Techmanski, a longtime Cupertino resident and active participant in community group Better Cupertino, says the development increases the imbalance of jobs to housing in the city:

“I’m very mad. They’ve [Sand Hill] used the housing bill to create, once again, more jobs than housing. How does the housing bill make our situation better when it has made more jobs than housing?”

Techmanski is concerned about how the proposal might shift the power dynamic in the discussion about what should rise on the site, even if the community engagement process around the site does continue. She sees past actions — such as winding down the mall operations and promising the now-vacant AMC moving theater would return if a project was approved this year — as “blackmail.”

“This SB 35 might be more blackmail. … It may be a bargaining chip, but either way that is not nice. It is the exact same plan they always had. They aren’t working with the community.”