Sand Hill Must Win Voters’ Support for Ambitious Vallco Mall Redevelopment

Cupertino, Vallco Mall, Sand Hill Property Co, The Hills at Vallco, BetterCupertino.org, Sensible Growth Initiative, Silicon Valley, Bay Area

By Adam Steinhauer

The owner of Cupertino’s faded Vallco Shopping Mall wants to redevelop the shopping center and surrounding area into 58 acres of retail property, housing and office space with 30 acres of parks and open space.

But to do so, it will have to win the direct support of Cupertino residents, who will decide between two competing ballot measures–one sponsored by advocates for the redevelopment plan and one backed by slow-growth proponents.

Sand Hill Property Co. is the developer pursuing the $3 billion plan to remake Vallco, after spending a reported $316 million two years ago to purchase all four of the parcels that make up the shopping mall property. It is said to be the first time in Vallco’s 40-year history that all of the parcels are controlled by a single owner.

Sand Hill has since held more than 30 meetings with the community, seeking input and support for its project, Managing Director Reed Moulds said. After that input, The Hills at Vallco, as the project is called, will include a 30-acre park and nature preserve, buildings that will meet LEED Platinum certification environmental standards, a “green roof” of vegetation across the tops of buildings and an amphitheater.

“What’s interesting is now that we have the opportunity to revitalize Vallco, the community has called for us to build upon it to create a true destination in the city,” Moulds said. “The idea is, not only can we now begin to provide a great tax base for the city of Cupertino, but given the scale of the project, we can do a lot more than just create a vibrant commercial core. We can do things with the community as well.”

However, opponents of the project also claim the community’s support. Liang Chao, with the citizen’s group BetterCupertino.org, said that 90 percent of the residents that her organization approached signed the petition to put the Cupertino Citizens’ Sensible Growth Initiative on the ballot. An even greater percentage expressed support while some declined to sign the petition, she said.

“You should be asking Sand Hill why they are afraid to advertise their Hills at Vallco project as what it is: An office park,” Chao said in an email. “It is apparent that Sand Hill knows that Cupertino residents want a shopping mall, not an office park. In any of Sand Hill’s Vallco flyers, 2 million square feet of office is never mentioned, not even the word ‘office.’ Not in any open house either.”

The opponents argue that some 10,000 workers employed in the 2 million square feet of new office space at the Hills at Vallco would add to traffic congestion, and children in the 800 new units of rental housing in the project would add to overcrowding in Cupertino schools.

Meanwhile, the redevelopment plan offers little to revitalize the mall so it could better serve local residents and attract shoppers from beyond, opponents say.

Moulds responds that keeping a Vallco as a traditional indoor mall isn’t viable. Since the 1980s, it has been losing in competition with Stanford Shopping Center in Palo Alto and Valley Fair in Santa Clara, while also struggling against the growth of online shopping and the consolidation of the department store industry. As of 2014, space at Vallco was 82% occupied, according to to the proponents of Sand Hills’ plan. That compared to 98% occupancy at Stanford Shopping Center and 96% occupancy at Valley Fair.

The Sensible Growth Initiative would prohibit residential and office development in the Vallco Shopping District, remove provisions from the city’s general plan that call for redeveloping the mall into a mixed-use “town center,” and replace them with a goal of preserving and enhancing the district as a “regional retail, hotel, dining and entertainment commercial destination.”

“The intent and purpose of that initiative is to have Vallco remain as a failed retail mall,” Moulds said. “It limits us from making any changes to respond to how the market’s changed in the last 30 years. In that time, the mall’s track record has been pretty dismal.”

By their own account, the all-volunteer group that is working against the mall’s redevelopment is facing an unsympathetic audience at the City Council and among others with influence over city affairs.

On April 5, the Council adopted an ordinance to change the wording that will appear on the ballot to note that the Sensible Growth Initiative would raise height limits for construction in Cupertino. Chao said the new wording is misleading. Height limits for single-family, multi-family and duplex homes would remain unchanged under the initiative, she said.

Chao said that her group received less than 12 hours notice for the April 5 special meeting where the Council changed the initiative’s wording and that the change was made at the urging of Sand Hill’s attorneys. She also noted that the president and vice president of the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce are both Sand Hill employees.

“What you should be asking is why the only supporters of Sand Hill’s Vallco office park project are people who are close to the City Council and the Cupertino Chamber of Commerce,” Chao said. On Tuesday, April 19, Chao’s group filed documents with the city to recall Mayor Barry Chang, citing open meeting violations relating to the April 5 ballot initiative changes.

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