Cupertino residents divided over shopping mall redevelopment

 

A Bay Area property company has begun demolishing a parking structure at the Vallco shopping mall, the first step towards construction of a new 58-acre, mixed-use development that has divided the community.

Some residents are celebrating the move toward the creation of more affordable housing and a new city center, while opponents are rallying to try to block the project that they say will worsen traffic by bringing in too many new office workers that the city – already struggling with a housing crisis – can’t accommodate.

Volunteers Vanessa Su (left), Yanping Zhao (center), and Phyllis Dickstein (right) gather signatures from Cupertino residents who hope to pass a referendum against the city of Cupertino’s approved development plan for Vallco. (Emily Merritt / Peninsula Press)

On Oct. 2, the Cupertino City Council voted 3-2 to approve the plan, which includes nearly 2,400 housing units and 1.75 million square feet of office space as well as funds for schools and a new city hall.

The Specific Plan is a revision of an earlier proposal that had included taller buildings and no financial perks for the city.

Cupertino School Board member Liang Chao, who is running for City Council in the Nov. 6 election and is a member of Better Cupertino, a local activist group gathering signatures for a possible referendum to halt construction, says the city’s housing crisis is her main concern, and that she primarily objects to the amount of office space.

“I don’t see why we need offices,” said Chao in a telephone interview.

Chao said the project would widen the gap between the number of jobs in Cupertino and the amount of housing available. “With this project we move deeper into the crisis because we add more jobs than the amount of houses. That’s very dangerous and it’s very irresponsible and I don’t see the regional leaders looking at that,” she said.

Vallco Fashion Park opened in 1976, and was a hub for shoppers along the peninsula until the mid-2000s when storefronts began to close down in the mall. The interior of the mall was finally closed down when the AMC Movie theater inside shut its doors earlier this year. (Emily Merritt / Peninsula Press)

Cupertino Planning Commission Chair Geoff Paulsen, who has been involved throughout the drafting of the Specific Plan, said the end result is representative of the community’s concerns and interests.

“A lot of people did come and participate and that’s how we developed this Specific Plan: a lot of public input, a lot of really knowledgeable urban planning experts, economists, transportation folks, and others,” Paulsen said.

For more than a decade, developers have been seeking to redevelop the site and have been blocked by various ballot measures.

Jean Bedord, the editor and publisher of the community newsletter Cupertino Matters, said in an interview that office space is necessary for any retail to thrive during the work week and that mixed-use developments, like the Vallco Specific Plan, represent the future of city centers.

“We can argue about the details, but let’s get the demolition going,” she said. “Because we’re talking about a five to ten-year buildout.”