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Cupertino asks residents what to do with vacant Vallco mall

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“The sad reality is that the community is really divided, and it’s a pretty uncivil dialogue that’s built up”

Courtesy Sand Hill Property Company/Rafael Vi–oly Architects
Developers’ vision for the future of the mostly vacant Cupertino mall.
Courtesy Sand Hill Property Company/Rafael Vi–oly Architects

Here’s what the city of Cupertino knows for sure: The Vallco shopping mall is almost entirely derelict, development company Sand Hill would like to put forward a new project in the space with millions of square feet of office space and hundreds of new homes, and new state laws have put the city far behind the 8-ball when it comes to new housing.

Everything else remains murky about the fate of the city’s 1970s-era shopping center, even as the first public meeting about potential future uses for the site happens Monday tonight.

According to Cupertino’s government site:

The purpose of this meeting is to receive input from the public and inform residents about the project process and how to stay involved. The City and lead planning consultant, Opticos Design, will conduct this community meeting. A specific plan establishes design and land use standards for one area of the city.

Dan Parolek, founder of the Berkeley-based urban design firm Opticos, which has gamely taken the job of developing a plan for the Vallco, tells Curbed SF that the first step in the contentious process will be simply listening to what Cupertino residents have to say.

Vallco in 2008, then known as Cupertino Square.

“The sad reality is that the community is really divided, and it’s a pretty uncivil dialogue that’s built up,” says Parolek. “Tonight’s project kickoff meeting is just to get some initial feedback.”

In 2016, Cupertino voters rejected one ballot measure that would have given developers the green light on conversion. But they also shot down a competing measure that would have thrown out Sand Hill’s office/housing plan entirely. So it’s a pretty contentious scene.

However, this is not the most difficult community negotiation Opticos has faced.

“Eighteen years ago, working with plans for the Pleasant Hill BART Station, we had armed guards the first couple of days,” says Parolek.

The process will eventually include a pair of nearly week-long design huddles with Cupertino residents laying out multiple possible uses for the site.

The city faces two potentially pointed incentives for some kind of housing plan on the site, first being major business tenants like Apple, whose new, multi-billlion dollar designer HQ sits within earshot of the Vallco site.

Apple Insider reported last week that “Apple employees have been encouraged to get involved” in the Vallco debate, although the site did not reference anything more specific.

The second spur is the state’s new SB 35 bill, which can make it much easier for developers like Sand Hill to force their way through the permitting process if cities if the state determines that they’re short on housing.

According to Sacramento’s first assessment regarding which cities are on the hook under the new law, qualifying developments in Cupertino could be granted “by-right” permits if half of the offered units are affordable housing.

Interested parties can voice their opinions at this evening’s meeting at 6 p.m. at the Community Hall Building, 10350 Torre Avenue, Cupertino.