Planning Commission Chair calls on city to rescind SB 35 approval of Vallco

Photo courtesy of City of Cupertino Facebook page.Photo courtesy of City of Cupertino Facebook page.

Chairman Wang calls potential $24 million in fines and legal liability a “small price to pay” in fight against Vallco

The Cupertino City Planning Commission spent two and a half hours Tuesday night discussing the recent report that gave Vallco’s soil a clean bill of health.

The prolonged debate, which became heated at times, included input from the Santa Clara County Fire Department that conditions at the Vallco site are normal and typical, seeming to corroborate the WSP USA report from late last week.

In one exchange, Planning Commission Chairman R “Ray” Wang started to propose a motion that would have recommended the City Council re-review the SB 35 approval process.

Assistant City Attorney Seph Petta noted that, if the city followed that recommendation and issued a moratorium on demolition or building permits that the SB 35 requires be issued, the “city could be subjecting itself to high litigation risk.”

In response, Chairman Wang called that risk a “small price to pay” despite the potential exposure of taxpayer funds.

Commissioner David Fung stated that the Housing Accountability Act has a minimum penalty, in addition to the potential litigation damages, of $10,000 per unit, which the city’s taxpayers could be on the hook for should it fail to meet the SB 35 process obligations.

That would amount to at least $24 million given the number of units proposed at the Vallco site.

Chairman Wang, due to the lack of support from other commissioners, decided against moving forward with that series of motions that would have recommend to the City Council that they rescind the Vallco project’s approvals.

Instead, he proposed a motion recommending two things: that the City Council review the analysis recently completed by WSP USA, and that the city review if it is able to conduct its own site analysis. That analysis would be done using taxpayer funds. The compromise motion passed 4-0.

Approval for redevelopment of the Vallco Town Center site, which is slated to include more than 2,400 residential units with 1,200 at affordable levels, was done under an SB 35 process, which required the site characterization report submitted by WSP USA. That report was also peer reviewed by the environmental consulting firm that completed the Apple Park analysis.

The Planning Commission moved forward with Tuesday evening’s discussion of the report despite city staff not having had enough time to review or engage their consultant’s assistance to review the 1,234-page report.

Tuesday’s resolution, if agreed to by the City Council, could bring about an additional city-funded review and would likely result in the delay of the issuance of demolition permits.

Commissioner Kitty Moore recused herself from the discussion because she is actively involved in litigation opposed to the Vallco Town Center project.

During a related portion of the debate, Commissioner Alan Takahashi and Vice Chairman Vikram Saxena discussed the need for a better notification process to Cupertino residents from Sand Hill Property Company, which is developing the Vallco site. Saxsena noted the “need to restore the trust in the process” particularly around notifications to residents in the area surrounding Vallco during demolition and construction.