Op-Ed: Vallco Transformation Finally Moves Forward—Now It’s Time That Cupertino Does, Too 

Vallco evokes fond memories for Cupertino residents as a go-to social hotspot. Its future, however, has provoked decades of community conflict and uncertainty—a future held hostage by an anti-development faction keen on closing Cupertino to new neighbors.

We watched the death of proposed projects and specific plans, dueling ballot measures, multiple referenda, and numerous lawsuits. The community’s descent into division, mistrust, and fear manifested in Vallco’s slow decay into abandonment and demolition.

That changed on May 6 when Judge Helen E. Williams ruled in Friends of Better Cupertino v. City of Cupertino, the latest challenge to progress at Vallco. She dismantled each of Friends of Better Cupertino’s (FOBC’s) “disorganized and undisciplined” arguments, and critiqued their use of “hysterical language.” Her decision finally cleared the path for the 2,402-home, mixed-use Vallco SB 35 project to move forward. Cupertino, too, must now move forward. Moving forward requires confronting our housing crisis.

The causes of our dire housing affordability crisis are complex, but its prime source lies in cities’ reluctance to allow enough homes to be built. Between 2011 and 2015, the Bay Area added over 500,000 jobs but only 65,000 homes. That’s one home for every eight jobs created. The deficit for subsidized affordable housing is more alarming.

This shortfall isn’t an accident.

The ongoing anti-growth movement among wealthier, exclusive communities hampers our ability to house Californians. Cupertino hosts one of the most enduring.

In 2005, Cupertino saw three anti-housing ballot measures. A year later, Cupertino voters rejected hundreds of new homes at Vallco and a nearby vacant lot, chanting the slogan “Just say ‘No!’ to Condo-tino!” Opponents—including current Mayor Steven Scharf—ironically cited school over-enrollment and the need for office expansion.

In 2014, Councilman Mark Santoro shamelessly declared: “You should put [new housing] where HCD will approve it and you hope it’s not going to get built. All of the sites I picked last time were not built.” 2016 and 2018 saw candidates elected who opposed significant housing production; in 2019, council downzoned Vallco.

The result?

An average home costs $2 million, the average rent runs $3,400, and young families—including Cupertino’s own children—cannot return and contribute to our community. We have the worst low-income jobs-to-housing ratio in the Bay Area (13:1). Homeless encampments rise in the shadow of the wealthiest company in history. The storied Cupertino Union School District must contemplate shuttering three top-performing schools due to under-enrollment. And middle and working class Cupertino employees—teachers, service workers, baristas, librarians, firefighters—are walled out of our city, consigned to mega commutes.

Though this iconic project could be better (as any project could), the large amount of office space subsidizes an unprecedented 1,201 sorely needed affordable homes for exactly these employees. When Cupertino fails to meet its fair share of housing needs, those needs persist. Instead, more sensitive communities in San Jose or Oakland pick up the slack, exacerbating displacement and pollution.

Moving forward, Vallco can become the focal point for transit-oriented housing developments along Stevens Creek—reducing our reliance on cars and creating a greater sense of community. The solution will never be one project, nor one type of housing. But doing nothing is not an option.

We will soon receive new state-mandated housing goals numbering several thousand new homes. To meet these goals, to build a city for all its people, we must legalize more housing in Cupertino. Yet our city council has no real plan to do so.

We can do better. It is time to build a new moral vision for our city, one centered on affordability, inclusion, and vibrancy. It’s time to build a Cupertino for all.

J.R. Fruen is a Cupertino resident and co-founder of the community advocacy group, Cupertino for All. Neil Park-McClintick, who chairs Cupertino for All, recently graduated from UC Berkeley and moved back to Cupertino for the express purpose of changing the city’s politics. Opinions are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect those of San Jose Inside. Send op-ed pitches to [email protected].

34 Comments

  1. Stack and pack housing just another high density hot spot for victims of the next pandemic to fester. This area should not be permitted to become the next New York City. Nice single family homes or perhaps a park everyone can enjoy.

      • Maybe the reason that the NIMBY’s don’t like you living in their backyards is because you’re a whiny, disagreeable, unlikable person.

        Having you in the neighborhood reduces the quality of life.

        Go live in someone else’s backyard.

        • I think the idea was that the roof in the drawing is a community garden. As for solar panels, you understand how wires work, right? Solar panels on a roof could provide supplementary power to the entire building–not just the top floor.

          • A community garden? Haha – pie in the sky. Sand Hill will find a way to stop “funding” this “garden”, just like they’ve shirked their other responsibilities.

        • No, it’s more like: NIMBY’s don’t like any new people coming to live within several miles of their backyards.

        • Now that everyone has been working from home for several months and employers are seeing how productive we are, I expect the housing problem to solve itself in the upcoming years, with SV companies expanding their workforce with remote employees and even letting some move out of the area and keep their jobs.

          Pretty soon, both the NIMBYs and YIMBYs will have what they want: fewer residents, less traffic AND more affordable housing.

          There is one notable downside, however: we homeowners (NIMBY or otherwise) whose home values have skyrocketed in recent years will see prices fall back to earth.

    • This project is nothing like “the next New York City.” Even if it were, density isn’t why the coronavirus hit New York so bad. If that were the case, why has San Francisco, the second densest major city in the country after New York, been largely spared? Overcrowding, on the other hand, does worsen the spread of the virus. The way to solve overcrowding is to make sure there are enough homes. See https://pbs.twimg.com/media/EYW6RFZU0AAQVbT?format=jpg&name=medium for a lovely graphic illustration of the difference.

      • > for a lovely graphic illustration of the difference.

        Even though “density” is nicer than “crowding”, your illustration suggests that “density” only allows the people with “top floor privilege” to have solar power.

        Single family housing allows more people to have top floor privilege.

        • I think most would prefer housing period, than a single family home they will never be able to afford with solar.

          • If you can’t afford to live here then don’t. Some of us don’t want the Bay Area to end up like Calcutta. Really we don’t.

      • So let’s level some apartment buildings putting in single family homes. We reduce the population density and make life more enjoyable for those that can remain in the bay area.

      • Wow – a cartoon to prove your point. Sorry, I’m going to use common-sense and say that families prefer single family homes, otherwise they wouldn’t be paying $3M to live in a SFH in Los Altos, when apartments in San Jose are only a few miles away.

  2. We all know that the true Vallco issue has little to do with housing. Sand Hill’s true concern is maximizing profits for the Abu Dhabi Fund backer with offices. Cupertino residents resent developers circumventing the city planning and zoning by buying off their politicians like Barry Chang. After the massive Measure D campaign to force the zoning change and install “reliable” council members failed spectacularly at the polls, Sand Hill’s back up plan was to use Weiner’s state legislation to force through the Vallco project now spun with housing rhetoric as the tactical weapon.

    Sand Hill has bought a few friends in the community such as by hiring them as “consultants”, or hiring their daughter to intern in the Sand Hill PR department, backing their candidacy with dark money, promising rewards, appropriating special causes like housing advocacy, and a relentless dark PR operation.

    The propaganda machine to villainize Cupertino residents with “anti-housing” and “NIMBY” slurs is extensive and well funded by Sand Hill Property Company. Along with PR stories placed in traditional media, the Singer Associates PR agency even created a fake “news” site and social media accounts, “Cupertino Today”, to twist the community discussion about Vallco for their client Sand Hill Property Company. The goal of the fake news and social media operation is to drown out independent local discussion, gather citizen contact data for future campaigns, and promote Sand Hill talking points while disguised as impartial “news” in the same fashion as Singer Associates operates the similarly fake news operation “Richmond Standard” for Chevron. It is quite the secretive propaganda operation against Cupertino, but Sand Hill must feel that they so lack community credibility and support that they waive the risk of additional resentment.

    If Sand Hill Property Company and PR operatives want the community to “move forward”, then Sand Hill must drop the false pretexts, propaganda, and personal attacks that have galvanized the community against their Vallco project.

    • Hey anonymous! Please point out what in this piece is fake. We will issue a correction if that’s the case. Otherwise, this is just a bunch of conspiracy theories.

      • Hey Neil, you conveniently avoid acknowledgement that Sand Hill’s SB35 plan for Vallco is centered on 2 Million square feet of office space, but of course that doesn’t fit the crafted PR story on housing.

        Your opinion piece also misrepresents the school impact, which I believe is intentional because it also follows the same false narrative spun by the Singer Associates campaigns. It is the schools away from the Stevens Creek corridor that have low attendance numbers, and the Cupertino Union School District actually had been discussing opening a new school site to alleviate over-crowding in that area. It is schools like Blue Hills, Muir, and Regnart in the south of District, in the less dense and more expensive Saratoga neighborhoods have a low attendance and would face closure if they weren’t in a rich neighborhood. Schools in the Vallco area like Collins, Garden Gate, and especially Stocklmeir are at capacity already. New Vallco development without a new school built there will force those students to be bussed to other areas. Cupertino residents object to the development by force and bribe that strays from objective and responsible city planning. I hope you will make the correction to your misleading statement about CUSD.

        Your co-author, J.R. Fruen. I have seen his name before somewhere. Was it as an officer of a political committee that received over a hundred thousand dollars in funds from construction companies or building unions? Please correct me if I am wrong, it could have been some other J.R. Fruen.

        • “Though this iconic project could be better (as any project could), the large amount of office space subsidizes an unprecedented 1,201 sorely needed affordable homes for exactly these employees. When Cupertino fails to meet its fair share of housing needs, those needs persist. Instead, more sensitive communities in San Jose or Oakland pick up the slack, exacerbating displacement and pollution.”

          Seems like we acknowledged that the project has a lot of office space, and that’s not preferable. Here’s the thing though—because it has an insane amount of affordable housing (for which Cupertino has a massive 13:1 deficit for its low-income workers:housing ratio)—you need some sort of mechanic like office space to offset those $$s lost. In the original specific plan (which we advocated for), there was far less office space and more housing. Unfortunately, BC and friends made sure it was dead on day 1 of their term. An affordable unit costs nearly $1 million to build with the high cost of labor, land, and materials—meaning that you need something profitable to offset that amount. Indeed, Sand Hill first and foremost wants to make a profit—as one does in a capitalistic system. But there is also demonstrable evidence that the costs for this project are exceedingly high due to the affordable housing piece.

          All CUSD Schools are projected to lose enrollment by the way—so your statement is factually false. Cupertino is a dying city with an aging population. College graduates from our community do not move back. We are perhaps the only city in the bay area with a declining population (besides maybe our fellow aging cities like Saratoga).

          As to J.R.—I can’t speak to his experiences, and I was not around in Cupertino then (I was in college), but yes—he ran an independent expenditure committee with overwhelming financial support from labor.

  3. The whiny YIMBY’s are the problem. Over educated at liberal institutions that teach socialist concepts, they are bumming because now they can’t get their latte’s, massage, free snacks and meals at work, and free transit.. These misfits finally have to pay their dues and they just can’t get their arms around this. Pay your dues and stop trying to make the world a better place. Your better place is a hell hole of crowded housing, narrowed streets, homeless, drug dispensiarie, microdosing adderall addicts and vaping idiots. Just leave. Move away. We don’t need your ilk.

    • It has nothing to do with socialism. NIMBY/YIMBY attitudes cross all ideological boundaries. The problem is ill advised zoning, with a huge imbalance of office space vs residential. As long as companies hire people and require them to work in the local office, people are going to move to the area and try to find housing. You can get lattes anywhere, these people want to live reasonably close to their offices. I don’t see any point in blaming them or labeling them socialist for that. If you want to blame anyone, how about the companies that hire so many workers with no place for them to live? Or the zoning laws that allow such a massively unbalanced ratio of jobs to housing units? That’s the root cause Joe.

  4. Bravo to the judge and to the Vallco team for bringing forward a project that will add net housing to an area that desperately needs it. Many of its detractors will be the first to enjoy its amenities once it opens.

    • LOL – you obviously know nothing about this project. It’s a net negative in housing – nearly 2M sq ft is 10,000 workers nowadays. You think they are all going to live in the the 2,402 housing units? It’ll make the imbalance much worse.

  5. If you want crowded high rises then go to another country. Some of us like America with single family homes.

  6. SB 35 is authoritarian dreck that must be repealed.

    Cupertino residents lost their case against the City’s approval of the Vallco project under SB 35 because the court determined that the SB law:

    (1) Empowers Staff to Approve Non-compliant Projects Submitted Under SB 35
    (2) Prevents Residents and Elected Officials from Participating in Public Hearings, Accessing Due Process Rights, or Challenging Projects that Are Not Compliant with the Law

    Oligarchs’ Dream project isn’t compliant with SB 35 or the city’s general plan? Too bad, residents. The court determines your preoccupation with “lawfulness” and due process are not recognized under SB 35.

    And Thanks Be for SB 35, the World is safe for the construction of another office development in Cupertino. All the numbers for the Vallco project confirm that the combined majority use at the site is office and retail, not housing. But, twisted mind, post-approval amendments to SB 35 (AB 101, [2019]) allow parking spaces to be counted as housing but forbid office and retail parking to be counted toward “non-housing” use, so the ratio is skewed to bloat the numbers for “total residential square footage” relative to the “non-housing square footage”.

    Residents are burdened by well-funded State legislators so beholden to real estate interests they cry “Housing Crisis!”, then pass laws that only make gentrification and displacement more likely and more awful.

    More authoritarian land use laws are in the works: SB 902, AB 725, AB 1279, AB 3173…and new ones introduced but not yet named or called out.

    To paraphrase someone who said it much better: it’s not fair that overworked, time- and cash-strapped citizens must fight to so hard to defend our democracy, but it is the truth. Use it or lose it.

  7. I live in a neighboring city, and anyone with half a brain will realize that this “Opinion” piece is written by developer promoters and glosses over some key facts. They say that “The storied Cupertino Union School District must contemplate shuttering three top-performing schools due to under-enrollment” – well, this project doesn’t do anything to solve that issue! The schools surrounding this project are doing fine with respect to enrollment. Then they imply that this will somehow lower housing costs in the area, while ignoring the fact that this office park will add ~10,000 workers! They groan about the $2M cost of a house in Cupertino that families can’t afford, but forget to mention that NONE, ZERO, of the units being built are for sale, only for rent.

    And add affordable housing? Will believe it when I see it! This developer has a habit of not following through with commitments. But once the thing is built, it’ll be too late to do anything about that.

  8. There’s about 2 million square feet of office in that plan, not enough apartments for all the workers by a long shot.

    Can’t recall the last time we were able to fly to enjoy the view of a roof…it’s a costly scheme.

    This project was the most expensive option for the developer to build. FoBC lost, but in the end they forced the developer to build 1,201 affordable units. And the alternatives let them weasel out of that while still getting a ton of office.

    FoBC actually cornered them good!

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