Five years have passed since Cupertino employees approved the 2018 Vallco Town Center SB 35 project (Vallco SB 35 project, located on Stevens Creek Blvd and N. Wolfe Rd) under ministerial approval provisions of the 2017 SB 35 bill. The last project updates published on the City of Cupertino’s website and on the property owner’s “The Rise” website are dated May 2023.
Empty Vallco Site, as of September 2023
Several areas of Vallco land were found to be contaminated by toxic waste. In April 2021, the supervision of the soil contamination cleanup was transferred to Santa Clara County’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety (DEH). After significant testing and reporting, a site cleanup plan was approved in December 2022. Cleanup efforts began around May/June 2023 with the hauling away of some contaminated soil, but since then activity at the site appears to have stalled.
In 2018, Kitty Moore unearthed the contamination at Vallco via her thorough analysis of EIR and Geotracker reports from California’s State Water Board. Since becoming elected, Councilmember Moore has worked to ensure the developer remains accountable and does not build atop contaminated ground.
Proposed building blocks with their uses and soil/vapor probing areas. Each color designates a different investigation. Not all the dots indicate areas of concern. The areas of particular concern are indicated within the dashed blocks. In some probes, the deeper they went, the more they found. Source: Geotracker
New Changes to Plan
Based on information inferred from a 8/22/2023 DEH letter to the property owner, representatives for the property owner met with DEH representatives sometime after the May/June 2023 cleanup effort began. From the letter, the property owner considers “significant deviations from the development plan” associated with the Site Management Plan (SMP) to clean up the site. The changes discussed in the letter include:
- “Site development and occupancy in phases. (The approved SMP does not consider phasing the Site development and occupancy).“
- “Construction of 6 additional buildings…for a total of 12 buildings to be located west of Wolfe Road. (The approved SMP considers construction of only 6 buildings in this location, referred to as Blocks 1 through 6).” It is unclear where these 6 new buildings would go.
To note: With its submission of the Vallco SB 35 project, the property owner bypassed Cupertino’s parkland requirement for new developments (3 acres of parkland for every 1,000 new residents) by ignoring the “land” in parkland and designing a sloped, contiguous rooftop canopy it labeled a park. However, it has never been made clear how public access to the rooftop amenity would be maintained and enforced.Will there be well-lighted and adequately ventilated spaces below the canopy safe for gathering and strolling?With 6 additional buildings considered for the west parcel of the Vallco property, it remains to be seen how the canopy and the environmental conditions below it will change.
- “Elimination of subterranean parking garages beneath some or all of the buildings. (The approved SMP includes mechanically ventilated parking garages beneath every building).” Would there be sufficient parking for residents, employees, and visitors if underground parking were eliminated from the site?
The elimination of the underground parking likely means the property owner abandons plans to excavate the contaminated soil, which would leave the contamination on the site. Upside, nearby neighborhoods would be spared the particulate pollution from the contaminated dust and vehicle exhaust from truckloads that would not be removed from the site, and another community would not be burdened with dumped hazardous waste it did not create.
Screening levels for contamination vary depending on the proposed use of the buildings. Commercial buildings are allowed higher levels of contamination because less time is spent in commercial buildings. Whereas, residential areas, daycares, and schools have stricter guidelines. This is very important because prolonged exposure to various contaminants can impact children’s development and public health and wellbeing. Once these contaminants enter our water supply, they can spread, impacting a greater number of people.
While the Court dismissed the 2018 petition filed by Friends of Better Cupertino to challenge what residents perceived as an unlawful approval of the Vallco SB 35 project, the Court’s decision could not disappear the substantive problems identified in the petition that persist with the project to this day. These include but are not limited to the continued presence of hazardous waste and disregard for the Cupertino General Plan requirement that residential developments shall include 3 acres of parkland for each 1,000 new residents forecast from each new residential development. Lost ground level parkland surrendered by the City to the property owner at the Vallco SB 35 project site is estimated to be 12.96 acres.
If the developer decides to go ahead with these changes, they will be required to notify the DEH in writing. The DEH would then decide if a whole new SMP is required along with possible additional reports. If contamination is left on the site, the DEH may put a permanent use restriction on the property along with long-term monitoring and inspections. As a result of these possible changes, the construction may be delayed.
Friends of Better Cupertino’s First Amended Petition, October 16, 2018:
GeoTracker – Vallco Town Center – Staff Letter – Potential Development Plan changes Letter 8.22.203
GeoTracker – Vallco Town Center – all documents
GeoTracker – Vallco Town Center – Conceptual Site Model (CSM) Revised February 2022
Page 29/142, Figure 2B – Boring locations in Relation to Proposed Development Building Footprints
Page 43/142, Figure D1 – Project Blocks & Basement Extent
City of Cupertino – The Rise – Status Updates (as of May 2023)
The Rise Construction Update – May 24, 2023