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Cupertino: Vallco developer invokes SB 35, says it will build 2,400 homes

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Sand Hill says it’s tired of waiting on plans for derelict mall

Empty escalators and shops at Vallco mall. Photos by Adam L Brinklow

Sand Hill Property Company, the developer that owns the nearly vacant Vallco Mall in Cupertino and has tried for years to redevelop it as a new mixed-use urban center, announced Tuesday that it will use a new California law to push ahead with plans that include more than 2,400 new homes on the site.

Sandhill’s “Revitalize Vallco” page announced that the company submitted for new building permits this week:

The project application was submitted pursuant to California Senate Bill 35 (“SB 35”) providing for a streamlined, ministerial approval process of the project.

Vallco Property Owner’s submittal is in direct response to California’s acute housing shortage and the State Legislature’s recent declaration that access to housing, and in particular affordable housing, is a matter of statewide concern. Vallco Town Center allocates more than two thirds of its development area to housing and mandates 50 percent of the 2,402 housing units to be built as affordable housing.

[...] Vallco Property Owner hopes that the City process is successful in yielding a project that is derived from the community and addresses housing while also being viable. However, absent such an alternative, Vallco Town Center offers a viable, housing-focused plan for the dead mall and will allow to get started on a feasible project with a reasonable schedule of completion.

Adam L Brinklow

SB 35, signed into law in 2017, greatly limits the power of many California cities to impede housing development, automatically fast tracking new housing that meets minimum requirements.

“It has now gotten to a point where we do not have any confidence that this process can come to a conclusion in a timely manner,” Sand Hill Managing Director Reed Moulds told the San Jose Mercury News, noting that the city has few options to hold up the project provided it’s properly zoned and in accordance with the city’s general plan.

Sand Hill bought Vallco—once a bustling commercial destination in the South Bay but in recent years turned almost entirely derelict, with only a handful of functional businesses remaining—in 2014.

The developer tried putting its original plans for the mall before voters in 2016 but lost—as did a competing ballot measure that would have severely restricted future Vallco development.

Sand Hill restarted the entitlements process in late 2017, but now appears ready to jump to the front of the line.

Dan Parolek, founder of the Berkeley-based urban design firm Opticos, held the first of several planned public meetings about Vallco on March 13 with a crowd of Cupertino residents.

It was a mostly mellow affair, although a few of the Cupertino residents in the room appeared standoffish when discussing development.

“I live in Berkeley, my son’s kindergarten teacher lives in a triplex and her mother lives in another unit and she’s also a teacher,” Parolek said when discussing the potential for new housing for teachers. “It’s about the faces of these people and who they are, not just scary terms like ‘multifamily.’”

One audience member shouted in response, “Are you here for a sales pitch or what?”

The next meeting is set for April, and both the city and developer say that the planning process will continue even in the face of Sand Hill’s building application.

The city has 180 days to respond to the request for permits. Whether or not the remainder of the regular entitlements process will continue beyond that point remains to be seen.