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Cupertino approves Vallco development plan near Apple Park [Updated]

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“Bringing this in would bring a lot of probably lower income people”

Empty escalators and shops at Vallco mall.
Vallco in 2018, eerily vacant.
Photos by Adam L Brinklow

Update: Sand Hill spokesperson Matt Larson announced via email that Cupertino gave the final go-ahead to the company’s attempt to invoke SB 35 and move ahead with its proposed 2,400-unit housing plan at Vallco:

Sand Hill Property Company, the owner of Vallco Mall in Cupertino, was granted project approvals by the City of Cupertino on Friday, September 21st, for its Senate Bill 35 project application, Vallco Town Center, to be located at the 50.82-acre site of the former Vallco shopping mall.

This marks the final approval for the project application, which would bring 1.81 million square feet of office space, 400,000 square feet of retail and 2,402 additional housing units to Cupertino. Half of those units, or 1,201, would be designated as affordable for low- and very low-income residents at a fraction of market rates.

Larson says that “the company was supportive” of the city’s own plan, agreed upon by City Council vote a few days earlier, but is opting to pursue its own designs for the site, since it now has the prerogative of choosing.

After a special two-day hearing and nearly 14 hours of debate, the Cupertino City Council voted Wednesday in favor of a plan to redevelop the nearly vacant Vallco mall with thousands of new homes in the heart of the city, just a few blocks from Apple Park.

The endurance trial hearings included at least one argument specifically against affordable housing at the site, a display emblematic of Silicon Valley in the midst of the housing crisis.

The Vallco mall was once the centerpiece of the city’s retail sector. But now, all but a handful of businesses in the structure have closed, and the bulk of the enormous complex is empty and inaccessible to visitors.

Developer Sand Hill Property Company bought the site in 2014 with plans to redevelop it as a mixed-use site with housing, offices, and a retail element.

The company put its plan before Cupertino voters in 2016, but lost at the ballot box. So too did a competing measure that would have severely curtailed potential development at Vallco.

Ever since then Sand Hill has been negotiating with neighbors and Cupertino City Hall, even as the few remaining Vallco businesses have continued to drop away.

According to City of Cupertino’s own Vallco-centric page, this week’s hearings faced a choice of two different plans:

One featured up to 2,034 units of housing, 600,000 feet of commercial space, and a maximum of 750,000 square feet of office space. The other, a larger proposal, consisted of up to 2,923 homes, and 1.5 million feet of office but a smaller retail element.

The vote comes in response to Sand Hill’s attempt to push its own development plans via SB 35, a state law written by State Sen. Scott Wiener of San Francisco that removes potential development hurdles for qualifying housing projects.

In a Wednesday statement by email, Wiener said of Vallco, “This type of project is exactly why we passed SB 35.”

The twin hearings brought out teachers, neighbors, community leaders, and development skeptics attempting to sway the city through hours of public comment.

One moment in particular on Tuesday night stands out, as a man who identified himself as “caring Cupertino resident Thomas Maiello” said:

“The idea of Cupertino is to have people living here that are educated with degrees. Bringing this in would bring a lot of probably lower income people, and that would definitely bring down our median average household income.”

In an accompanying slide, Maiello adds:

The high density housing at the current Vallco shopping mall site will bring down current housing values in our city. Housing won’t be as badly needed, and there will be more lower income people living in our city. This would without doubt bring down our median average household income of $147,929 especially because Apple is very cheap in paying their employees.


In the end, the council voted 3-2 in favor of the larger of the two proposals with 2,900-plus homes. Council members Steven Scharf and Darcy Paul voted in the minority.

Per SB 35, Sand Hill may accept the city’s plan, which also includes a variety of concessions and bonuses for Cupertino—or it may forge ahead with its smaller proposal for just over 2,400 Vallco homes, 50 percent of which would be offered at below market rates.