The pending transformation of a rundown Cupertino mall into a massive complex—2,400 residential units, 1.8 million square feet of office space, 400,000 square feet of retail—has become a test case for a controversial new law that aims to fast-track residential development in hopes of easing California’s crippling housing shortage. Ever since Sand Hill Property Company pitched the plan in March under SB 35, which requires cities to green-light certain mixed-use and residential developments, cities throughout the state have fixed their gaze on Cupertino to see how the landmark legislation would play out in a region considered ground zero of the affordability crisis.
It was somewhat surprising, then, that officials offered no public explanation for City Attorney Randolph Hom’s abrupt departure in mid-May. Hom’s unceremonious exit—with severance pay reportedly close to $200,000—was announced internally by way of an email from then-City Manager David Brandt notifying employees that deputy attorney Rocio Fierro would assume Hom’s role until the City Council hired a replacement.
The secrecy around Hom’s termination while he had such consequential work to do has fueled rumors that it had something to do with the intensely scrutinized Vallco Mall project. And without clear answers from the council and City Hall, despite numerous public records requests from local activists, it seems the speculation will go unchecked for the time being.
Mayor Darcy Paul didn’t return Fly’s call for comment, while city spokesman Brian Babcock declined to elaborate because he says it’s a personnel matter.
Maybe there’s nothing much to it. But residents and local watchdogs want answers about the termination of one of only a couple employees that the council can directly hire or fire. The other, Brandt, retired as city manager this month after signing a letter affirming that the Vallco Mall project is SB 35 compliant.
The city should be more forthcoming, regardless, says Tara Sreekrishnan, who’s running for council this fall. “I’m someone who follows these council meetings really closely, and I didn’t even notice that this happened,” she says. “I think it shows a lack of transparency from our city.”