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.
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].