Future of Vallco Mall site in Cupertino causes concern for some residents

- Thursday afternoon, Work crews began demolishing Vallco Mall in Cupertino. The decades-old shopping center’s trip into oblivion began with a series of short jabs from a hammer-head excavator. 

The crumbled concrete wasn’t just ceremonial, but represented breaking through to the next step.

“It’s been circuitous to get here, but we now have two plans which means this project is getting done,” said Reed Moulds, managing director of Sand Hill Property Company.

Sand Hill Property executives hope their Vallco Town Center comes to fruition. Sparked by provisions from Senate Bill 35, this plan offers 2,400 residential units for sale or rent -- a large portion deemed “affordable housing.” 

There would be 400,000 square feet of retail and entertainment uses, including a new theatre, and 1.8 million square feet of office space with a rooftop park for community use.

“SB 35, by streamlining these projects, breaks the log-jam,” said St. Sen. Scott Wiener – (D) San Francisco.

Dignitaries from the city, county, and state all stepped in front of the mic with smiles to support this, or a second, city-centric plan. It would push for more local input, and more traffic mitigation.

“I’m very excited. I think either plan that gets picked, is a win-win,” said Cindy Chavez, of the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, District 2. 

Added democrat St. Sen. Jim Beall of Campbell, “Let’s get this project under construction and get the benefits for the city of Cupertino.”

While it’s uncertain which plan will win the day, there’s a third option that’s more like a fly in the ointment. Some residents in Cupertino want to make this issue a ballot measure, arguing redeveloping this mall will only make the housing problem worse, not better.

“Why are they making such a big deal out of this demolition permit? Exactly. Because they want people to think it’s a done deal, when it’s not,” said Liang Chao of Better Cupertino.

She and other members opposed to massive development on the Vallco site say there are environmental impact issues that are being swept under the rug. And the formula of adding more retail space and less housing will only exacerbate the city’s daily commute gridlock.

“It generates more workers than it can house. If every project gives us more workers, we’re going to be deeper in housing crisis,” said Chao.

Some residents are energized in a push for a ballot initiative. Elected leaders and company officials say that would apply breaks just when the ball is rolling to replace a vacant mall with a thriving mixed-use complex, perhaps proving it really is easier to teardown than to rebuild. 

The work to demolish parking structures outside the mall is anticipated to continue for the next six-to-nine months. Then crews will begin demolishing the mall itself. If the issue does not become a ballot initiative, the project could be completed in five-to-10 years.

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