Both sides in the debate around a big housing development plan in Cupertino can (and often do!) claim that the other’s latest move is “illegal,” and the city council’s latest compromise measure has housing advocates on Twitter up in arms.
The gratuitous waste of empty space you see above is an image from inside the three-level dead mall called Vallco in Cupertino, part of a photoset taken just two weeks ago by Flickr user mrvacbob. The full set is quite a depressing show, considering the massive California housing crisis and the potential for a much better use of this property. A developer called Sand Hill Property Company bought the whole parcel in 2014 and tried to build a massive housing complex, only to have it shot down by Cupertino voters in 2016. State Senator Scott Wiener’s SB 35 housing bill resurrected the plan in the form of 2,400 new housing units on the site, but the totally expected community pushback forced Cupertino's City Council to adopt a Plan B at Monday’s meeting, a compromise measure that would still force 620 units should residents manage to thwart the development again.
Let’s see how Wiener feels about that compromise.
The Cupertino City Council downzoned the Vallco site - a dead shopping mall where Cupertino has been obstructing housing for years - & thus deleted 1,800 zoned housing units. This move is deeply outrageous & violates state law. https://t.co/Pxb7U0FNsW— Scott Wiener (@Scott_Wiener) August 29, 2019
“This move is deeply outrageous & violates state law,” Wiener fumed, in the act of retweeting a YIMBY meme enthusiast who said Cupertino is “the most shamelessly bad actor on housing in the entire Bay Area” and that the city’s announcement was “propaganda at its worst” (With respect, I’ve seen worse). In a comment to the Chronicle Thursday, Wiener added that “Cupertino will have deleted three quarters of the housing on the site,” and “what they're also doing is removing an enormous amount of affordable housing for low-income people.”
The Cupertino City Council is in a pretty tough spot, with the project opponents Friends of Better Cupertino taking legal action if they do approve the Vallco development, and the state of California threatening to sue them if they don’t. “The cities don’t actually build the housing,” Cupertino mayor Steven Sharf told the San Jose Mercury News last month. “We entitle it and we approve plans and issue permits. If these property owners don’t submit plans and ask for permits, there’s very little we could do.”
Advocates for the Vallco development feel that if you’re going to get sued either way, you might as well do the right thing rather than cater to angry constituents. “Smaller, wealthier cities add offices and stores that bring in tax dollars, while refusing to create enough homes for the people doing those jobs,” said Derecka Mahrens, executive director of the pro-labor nonprofit Working Partnerships USA, in a Mercury News op-ed. “That leaves bigger cities — home to many low-income communities of color — on the hook for providing more homes, schools, and other public services, while getting less revenue to fund those services. “
The state of California’s lawsuit against Cupertino is currently just a threat. Friends of Better Cupertino’s lawsuit against the city is already underway, with hearing scheduled to begin September 6.
Image: mrvacbob via Flickr