Slow Times at Vallco Mall

Watch the 1980s classic film “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” and you’ll see Sean Penn, Judge Reinhold, Phoebe Cates, Jennifer Jason Leigh and the gang hanging out at “Ridgemont Mall,” which was actually the Sherman Oaks Galleria.

The “go to” mall for me growing up was Vallco Mall in Cupertino.  As a kid, I spent hours there with my friends hanging out at the food court, checking out the latest cassettes at “The Wherehouse” music store, or playing in the arcade.

It’s slow times for malls these days as shopping trends have shifted toward sprawling outdoor centers filled with big box stores.  With traditional big mall anchors like Sears and JC Penney closing hundreds of stores nationwide, many malls losing their anchor tenants are also closing their doors.

Sadly, that trend has extended to Vallco, which has lost nearly all its tenants over the years.  The mall sits practically empty following the recent closure of the last big attraction – an AMC movie theater.

Seeing this trend, the owners of the Vallco property – Sand Hill Property Co. – have tried several times over the years to gain community approval for a proposal to redevelop the 58-acre property.  Unfortunately, it’s run into the menace known as NIMBY-ism – not in my back yard.

Local activists say they want to “slow growth” in Cupertino.  In this case, slow growth is code for block new housing.  They’ve thrown everything but the kitchen sink at Sand Hill over the years.  They even engaged in a nasty ballot fight with Sand Hill over Vallco’s redevelopment in 2016.

Sand Hill is finally saying enough is enough.  According to the Mercury News, they have proposed a new mixed-use project for the 58-acre Vallco site that would include 2,400 new housing units – half of which would be preserved for residents making $84,000 or less for a family of four – in addition to new commercial and office space.  The housing advocacy group SV@Home told Bisnow that 14 low-income workers compete for every affordable housing unit in Cupertino.

And they have a new tool in their pocket that will likely finally end the logjam over Vallco’s redevelopment.  Under SB 35, which was enacted into law last year, California cities must now approve mixed-use, residential projects like the Vallco proposal without unnecessary delay.  Thanks to the new state law, Cupertino has just 180 days to approve the project under SB 35, as long as the project meets city zoning and planning requirements.

Good for them.  While the many serious flaws with SB 35 have been written about on this blog in the past, NIMBYs can’t be allowed to use CEQA as a tool to block new housing projects.

Companies like Sand Hill shouldn’t have to go to such great lengths to do what every agrees must be done in California – build more housing.  The ongoing Vallco battle shows why it’s so important for lawmakers to continue seeking major reforms of our state’s outdated environmental laws that serve as a hindrance to building badly-needed new housing in Cupertino and across the state.

Tim Anaya is the communications director of the Pacific Research Institute.

Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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