Published On: Thu, Oct 11th, 2018

Demolition day arrives at Vallco Shopping Mall

Years of debates, hearings, public outreach, lawsuits and dueling ballot measures that reflected the deep rift in Cupertino over the fate of the long-deserted Vallco Shopping Mall culminated Thursday into a day for hammers, hard hats and bright construction vests

It was a day that marked the beginning of the end for Vallco, the dead mall that stands in the shadow of Apple, and the first step toward a massive mixed-use development that could bring nearly 3,000 housing units, a slew of office buildings and some retail, as well as a good chunk of open space.

Amid cheers, crews for Sand Hill Property Co., the mall’s property owner and developer, began knocking down one of two parking structures along the western edge of the property near the old Sears. Applause, handshakes, pats on the back and broad smiles followed. Some rushed to grab a piece of the concrete. Words like “historic” and “milestone” were uttered. The message from Sand Hill was: we’re ready to move forward.

“Tear down that mall,” Vice Mayor Rod Sinks exclaimed, pumping his fist, a hammer in hand.

Afterward, Sand Hill founder Peter Pau said he is still hopeful the disparate communities will “come to the same side” once his company proves it has Cupertino’s best intentions in mind through the construction process.

“I’m not really an emotional guy, but it’s almost a bittersweet feeling,” he said minutes after a blue excavator brought chunks of the parking structure crumbling down in front of a large crowd that included state senators Jim Beall, Scott Wiener and Assemblyman Evan Low in addition to the three Cupertino City Council members who recently approved an alternate, community-forged plan for the mall. Missing from the festivities were Mayor Darcy Paul and Councilman Steven Scharf, who both voted against the alternate plan.

Long after most of his colleagues had left, Sinks lingered at the site, still holding his hammer. He said he was gratified to see this day arrive. “I’m feeling like we actually got something done,” he said.

But as cheerful of an occasion the event was for those who support the mall’s redevelopment, efforts by slow-growth community group Better Cupertino to thwart the project still loom. Saying the city’s actions have left it with no other recourse, the group is gathering petition signatures to place a measure on next year’s ballot to block the redevelopment and raising money for new lawsuits. Sand Hill has countered by threatening to proceed with its own plan or take certain community benefits off the table should the group succeed in causing delays.

Sand Hill’s plan calls for 2,402 homes, 1.8 million square feet of office space, 400,000 square feet of retail and a 30-acre rooftop park. Under a new state law authored by Wiener known as Senate Bill 35, developers who offer badly needed housing can effectively bypass anti-growth forces that have used land-use rules and legal maneuvers to block unwanted projects

“Some people characterize it as if you’re not meeting your housing goals you’re going to get punished,” Wiener said at a press conference preceding Thursday’s demolition. “It’s not punishment. Housing is not punishment. Housing is where people live, so we’re not punishing anyone. This is about helping communities meet their housing goals; that’s what streamlining is.”

The alternate, community plan outlines different ratios of housing, retail and office space and seeks an additional package of community benefits including a major performing arts center, a new city hall and emergency response center, and multimillion-dollar contributions to the city’s schools. Sand Hill has not set a timeline for choosing between plans and has indicated it’s waiting to see what Better Cupertino does next.

His voice bouncing off the walls of the barren mall, Beall discussed the importance of providing housing for workers who comprise Silicon Valley’s non-tech workforce and college students who are homeless or live in their cars. The faster the project gets built, he said, the quicker the city stands to accrue the additional benefits, including a projected $2.5 million in property taxes.

“We don’t need a 17-inning baseball game, right? Let’s get the project under construction,” he said.

According to Pau, construction could take up to five years. Demolition of the mall will happen in phases and the current tenants would have to be temporarily relocated, he said. The next phase of demolition is expected to begin early next year.

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