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Vallco Mall demolition begins to make way for housing

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Residents still fighting over what to do with site even as redevelopment begins

Photo by Michael Pieracci

It’s the end of Vallco Shopping Mall in Cupertino, but years of internecine fighting about what to do with the building isn’t finished.

This week developer Sand Hill, which owns Vallco and recently won its long-sought approval to tear down the derelict shopping center and replace it with a large mixed-use development, announced that demolition of the storied but abandoned mall would begin Thursday.

The announcement by Sand Hill spokesperson Cami Crawford said that “Sand Hill officials will share the plan to demolish empty pieces of the mall and parking structures in preparation of bringing a mixed-use town center to the site” this week. But on Thursday, contractors and heavy equipment did indeed begin some of the work of knocking the structure down.

Vallco Mall, located on a 60-acre site, opened in the 1970s and proved a popular Silicon Valley destination. The huge shopping complex fell on hard times in recent years, with nearly the entire structure abandoned and only a handful of businesses remaining.

Sand Hill has struggled for years to go ahead with its Vallco demolition and rehab plan in the face of entrenched public skepticism.

It seemed like the entire idea might run into the ground when Cupertino voters denied a 2016 ballot measure that would have given the green light to Vallco’s plans.

Since then the developer launched a series of successful bargaining maneuvers that led to the Cupertino City Council narrowly voting in favor of redevelopment in September.

Critically, Sand Hill employed SB 35, the state law written by San Francisco-based State Sen. Scott Wiener that removes many procedural obstacles for certain kinds of development in most California cities.

Sand Hill has the prerogative to move ahead with its own SB 35-enabled plan or an alternative version presented by the city. Both include new office and retail space, as well as new housing.

The group Better Cupertino is trying to martial a voter referendum overturning the 3-2 September City Council vote on Vallco, arguing that city lawmakers did not follow proper procedure and that the approved project is too big:

As notice of what the actual plan to be voted on would include was not made public until a week before the hearing, citizens had no idea what it included. Additionally, they are concerned that the development agreement between city and developer doesn’t guarantee delivery of below-market-rate housing or the community benefits promised, and includes no completion bond.

Sand Hill warns Cupertino residents that if the city plan capsizes, it will go ahead with a “different and much larger project” permissible by state law.