Over the past decade, parking garages have been prioritized over apartment buildings in this wealthy Silicon Valley city, even as its elected officials have recruited tech companies with tens of thousands of employees to set up shop there.
So when Apple announced plans this week to spend $2.5 billion creating new homes in an effort to combat California’s housing crisis, critics guessed that money probably wouldn’t make it back to Cupertino, where efforts to stop new housing have been so successful that the median home value is now a staggering $2,074,600, a figure that’s out of reach for many of Apple’s own employees.
Take the housing project at the Vallco mall, 2,402 apartments and 400,000 square feet of retail space proposed for what is now a defunct shopping center. Anti-housing faction Friends of Better Cupertino recently took the project to court, claiming that housing on the Vallco site doesn’t qualify for SB 35 status, a state law that streamlines approvals for affordable housing projects.
The group asserts that the Vallco property has been labeled a hazardous waste site by the Department of Toxic Substance Control, thus rendering it ineligible for expedited approvals through SB 35—even though it was a mall for decades.
But Cupertino Mayor Steven Scharf says he’s optimistic about Apple funding housing locally—and that he wants more housing in Cupertino in general.
“We don’t yet know how much, if any, of that money will flow to Cupertino for affordable housing,” Scharf tells Curbed. “While, of course, we would like some of the Apple funds for affordable housing to come to Cupertino, we are already moving forward with other projects with affordable housing components.”
Scharf praises the Vallco project, which he says he supports, and says it will offer half of its units at below-market-rate rent. This is a change of tune from when he fought the project, going so far as to help launch a failed ballot measure to stop affordable housing from being built at the closed mall.
However, Scharf says the main reason the city has so many unbuilt projects—like the 1,000 entitled units the city must build as part of its Regional Housing Needs Allocation requirement—is that property owners have “explicitly stated multiple concerns about building.” Property owners cite a softening rental market for market-rate housing, labor shortages, tariffs on building materials, and the possibility of an economic recession.
“There is other land in Cupertino, some empty, some with obsolete commercial office buildings, that could be used for affordable and market-rate housing should the property owners be interested,” he says. “We are engaging with these property owners to see if we can find ways to encourage them to begin construction.”