The Future of Vallco
On June 22, 2018, Sand Hill Property Company, the owner of Vallco Mall in Cupertino, received a Notice of Streamlining Eligibility from the City of Cupertino confirming that the Vallco Town Center project qualifies for streamlined review pursuant to California Senate Bill 35 “SB 35”. The City’s notice makes Vallco Town Center one of the first in California to be approved under SB 35, upon the completion of the statute’s 180-day approval timeline.
During the remaining 90 days, the City will undertake a more detailed review of technical plans in preparation for issuance of development permits for the project and ultimately demolition and building permits.
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 2/3rds of its development area to housing and mandates 50% of the 2,402 housing units to be built as affordable housing.
The City of Cupertino is currently also in the process of developing a Specific Plan for Vallco. While SB 35 requires the Vallco Town Center project application to be processed and approved pursuant to statutory timelines set forth in the legislation, Vallco Property Owner does not intend for its SB 35 application to upset the ongoing planning process.
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.
The City of Cupertino engaged in a multi-year General Plan Update between 2012 and 2014. Specific to Vallco , the City amended its General Plan in 2014 and 2015, which included an updated vision and new policies, goals and objectives to transform the dying Vallco Shopping Mall from a single-use retail-only mall into a mixed-used Town Center including 2,000,000 square feet of office, between 600,000 and 1,200,000 square feet of retail, and 389 housing units.
2014 - 2015
After Sand Hill purchased the property in 2014, the company engaged with residents and stakeholders throughout the City to learn what they wanted in a revitalized Vallco. In September 2015, Sand Hill submitted its project application called “The Hills at Vallco”, which was fully compliant with the City’s General Plan vision for the site.
In early 2016, the Political Action Committee Better Cupertino submitted a ballot initiative that sought to secure Vallco as a retail-only site and would have blocked any viable project at the site. The proposed redevelopment project was forced to the the ballot. The two competing ballot measures swept the city in November 2016. Both were rejected by the voters. Following that election, Sand Hill shared with the community that, until there was no certainty and stability in Cupertino, the company could not further invest in the site.
Over the ensuing year, the mall continued to decline. The mall now sits nearly vacant. The City sponsored a speaker series featuring experts on demographics, retail, housing, and transportation to inform future Cupertino projects.
In October 2017, Sand Hill requested that the City initiate a Specific Plan process for Vallco and analyze a range of alternatives to “The Hills at Vallco” that would increase the number of residential units and reduce the amount of office space. The City initiated that process at the end of 2017.
In November 2017, an effort led by Mayor Paul and Councilmember Scharf attempted to downzone Vallco and remove the housing element from the site. The effort ultimately failed due to overwhelming community opposition.
The Vallco Specific Plan process is currently underway. Unfortunately, the same Political Action Committee that forced the project to the ballot in 2016 continues to oppose any economically viable redevelopment project at Vallco. There have been repeated efforts from this group to undermine the community planning process and stop the revitalization of Vallco. This group has attempted to run their own parallel planning process. In his State of the City address, the Mayor of Cupertino expressed his preference for a usage that would be far from economically viable. Actions such as these caused AMC Theatres, the mall’s last stronghold to close its doors In March 2018 due to uncertainty in the future of the site.
Meanwhile, the state’s and the City’s housing and affordability crisis continues to worsen. More than ever, Sand Hill believes that Vallco offers a unique opportunity to help address the housing shortage, while adding greatly to the lives of those who are already settled here. A sustainable mixed-use plan that includes shopping, dining, a cutting-edge entertainment district, community facilities, great streets and outdoor spaces, office space, and a meaningful amount of housing has the tremendous potential to turn a lifeless part of the city into a vibrant and community-driven new downtown district.