By Khalida Sarwari
A Cupertino City Council meeting that was long on name-calling but short on resolution and at times threatened to go off the rails Tuesday night brought out several dozen residents to give their two cents on a divisive development project that soon may test the strength of a controversial state housing law.
Impassioned speeches, interrupted remarks and intermittent jeering made for a tension-filled meeting that waned in civility as it crawled into the early morning hours. It was the council’s turn to weigh in on a community-driven project paralleling developer Sand Hill Property Company’s landmark SB 35 proposal to replace the rundown Vallco Shopping Mall with an expansive residential, office and retail development. But faced with a tall stack of speaker cards and an overflow crowd squeezed into the council chambers, the council agreed to divide the meeting into two parts.
What transpired in part one was a nine-hour-long meeting that gave more than 100 people a platform to address the council with pleas and concerns, revealing a diversity of opinions on the fate of the lifeless mall. Enough with the stalling; let’s hurry the process along, some cried. Some people asked for more retail, less office. Others pleaded for the council to think of the students and the developmentally disabled. Some people still were not satisfied with the number of affordable housing units outlined in each plan, while another group worried that all three proposals would transform their cityscape, and thus ruin their quality of life.
One resident said he feared low-income, high-density housing would bring in “uneducated” people. “A lot of other residents and I are concerned that this would make the current residents of Cupertino uncomfortable, and would split our city in half,” he said.
Under the SB 35 proposal, Sand Hill wants to build 2,402 homes, 1.8 million square feet of office space and 400,000 square feet of retail. Opticos Design recently unveiled a pair of alternative plans. One calls for more retail, slightly fewer homes, and reduces the amount of office space by more than half while a second calls for more homes, slightly more retail and a bit less office space.
Standing apart from the throng of housing advocates, educators, lobbyists and business and labor figures, an army of residents in red “Save Our Community” T-shirts cheered and clapped in support of members that questioned the viability of the three projects, despite repeated admonishments by Mayor Darcy Paul to refrain from any outbursts. Many of them are members of Better Cupertino, a slow-growth community group that helped quash plans to redevelop Vallco by placing a measure on the 2016 ballot.
This time, the group is threatening to challenge the proposals with a voter referendum while also preparing for a legal battle with the city. But their efforts will likely be for naught since under SB 35, Sand Hill has the upper hand on the future of Vallco, whether the community likes it or not.
Jean Bedord, a Cupertino resident who teaches at San Jose State University’s School of Information and publishes a community newsletter called Cupertino Matters, urged the council to green-light the version of the proposal with the most benefits for the community. Not doing so, she said, would be “irresponsible.”
“Please do not default to the SB 35 plan,” Bedord said.
The council will discuss the alternative plans and next steps for Vallco when it reconvenes today at 5 p.m.