Cupertino Matters

Housing has been a major topic this week. Governor Newsom soundly won the recall election, then promptly signed two landmark housing bills, one of which ends one-unit ONLY zoning in most of California. Cupertino is zoned 91% for single-family homes, which impedes development of intergenerational housing for aging parents and adult children. SB 9 allows homeowners to split sufficiently sized lots and build up to two homes on each lot on most parcels zoned for single-family use throughout California.  SB 10 allows–but does not require–local governments to streamline multi-family housing projects of up to 10 units near transit and urban cores. Such processes allow for less expensive, quicker permitting of small apartments and condominiums. These laws are additional tools to encourage more housing, though the projected impact will be modest. SB 9 could affect approximately 1.5% of total single-family parcels statewide, according to the Terner Center at UC Berkeley. In Cupertino, any change will be gradual, given the current annual turnover rate of less than 3% of parcels.

Locally, Newsom’s signing of AB 1174 providing additional clarification on SB 35 projects had the immediate impact of rendering the city’s position on extension of Vallco approvals moot despite the Legislative Review Committee’s last-minute approval of letters requesting the Governor’s veto. The deadline is now at least 2023, allowing pauses for litigation. The amount of state-level attention focused on a small jurisdiction just to get a  project built is highly unusual, and does not bode well for approval of the required Housing Element.

Permits to proceed on Vallco construction remain mired in miscommunication with city staff. Lack of a dedicated Vallco Project Manager for coordination has also not helped.  This letter from the law firm representing Sand Hill Properties details the obstacles to resolving the inevitable issues that come with a project of this size. But doesn’t three years suggest that the city is flouting the state requirement to avoid “inhibiting, chilling, or in any way precluding the development.”? 

While the current SB 35 project may not be ideal, SHP cites the rejection by this majority council of two alternative plans that engaged significant resources: (1) rescinded a  Specific Plan  that we had pursued as  the community preferred alternative project and  had previously approved; and (2) engaged in a purported good faith compromise project effort in 2020 that consumed 6 months’ time and significant monetary resources, only to have Council reject the negotiated compromise project out  of hand (see page 9 of the above referenced letter). Council therefore had two opportunities to obtain a better, more well-rounded project, and failed.  

Our city continues to pay a special price for council’s irresponsible behavior and negative reputation–literally. Agenda Item #15 is approval of a contract for a consultant to develop the state-mandated Housing Element. Cupertino’s comes over 9 months later than Mountain View’s and Palo Alto’s, which were approved in December, 2020. Part of the reason for that delay is the fact that two prior public requests for proposals (RFPs) issued by the city did not receive qualified applicants. Over 100 firms declined to apply. Just how bad is this council’s reputation if nobody was even willing to apply? The city had budgeted $295,000 for the project, but the estimated cost with legal review and notices is now $1,069,248, to engage EMC Planning ($748,040), whose experience is primarily outside the ABAG planning area, and which appears to have much less familiarity with planning Housing Elements. By contrast, Mountain View is paying roughly $266,000 for 11,135 units (well over twice as many as Cupertino’s 4,588 units). Palo Alto, even with their reputation as a difficult city, is paying $627,994 to a consultant to plan for 6,086 units. Even factoring in eventual grant money reimbursements sought and obtained by former City Manager Deb Feng, Cupertino still winds up paying hundreds of thousands more in taxpayer money than either Mountain View or Palo Alto (which was awarded even more in grant funding).

The CUSD Board meeting on Sept. 23 has an agenda item to discuss recommendations for  school consolidations. An excellent Criteria Data Dashboard is available on the district home page that rates each school on weighted criteria developed by the board. The need for change is compelling. For example, Muir Elementary only has 1 kindergarten class (where 4 is considered optimal), with an enrollment decline expected to 160 students in 2026 (500 to 600 is the fiscal threshold). Similarly, Dilworth has 1 kindergarten class and 184 projected enrollment in 2026. Closing schools is very emotionally wrenching, but it’s hard to see how the district can afford to delay any longer.

UPCOMING – CITY COUNCIL – Tues, Sept. 21, 2021, Regular meeting, 6:45 p.m; Study Session 5:30

The subject of the study session is Study Session to provide an update on the Pre-Approved Accessory Dwelling Unit Program and Accessory Dwelling Unit implementation.  This was previously presented to the Planning Commission.

The agenda is short, but meetings have tended to run until midnight, regardless. There are three Ceremonial Matters and Presentations: (1) Proclamation recognizing September as National Suicide Prevention Month, (2) Proclamation recognizing September 21 as World Alzheimer’s Day, and (3) Certificates of recognition to the Cupertino Safe Routes to School (SR2S) Student Video Contest winners. Reports should be routine, though the city manager may elect to comment on the signing of the AB 1174, affecting council’s last update item on Vallco building permits. The Consent Calendar is largely routine with the exception of two contracts which may get pulled for discussion if only because of their size:

Item #14 Consider Approval of a Contract between the City of Cupertino and Miracle Play Systems, Inc. for the Purchase and Installation of Themed Playground Equipment at Creekside Park Tot Lot for $222,194.96.

Item #15 Initiate Sixth-Cycle General Plan Housing Element update, consider consultant agreement to complete the Sixth-Cycle General Plan Housing Element update, related rezoning, and all necessary environmental review as required under State law, and associated budget modification. This Is an overdue contract to initiate public outreach and technical development of the state Housing Element for $748,040, for a total cost of $1,069,248, some of which will be offset by Grant Funds. Getting a qualified consultant has been very difficult with over 100 firms declining to respond to the city’s RFP (Request for Proposal), which was not initiated until April, 2021. Delays in recruitment, plus Cupertino’s reputation were likely factors, since the state housing agency is likely to closely scrutinize any report submitted by the city.

Item #16: Consider adopting a resolution approving the addition of a Suicide Prevention Policy. This should be non-controversial as a recognition of the importance of mental health for our community.

Item #17 Consider adjustments to the revised Athletic Field Use Policy. This is a status report to the council, with no policy changes recommended by staff, given that new policies have been in effect for only two months, though cricket teams are seeking increased use of the library field on weekends.

Item #18 City Work Program Update This 8-page report  on status of FY 20-21 work plan items, delayed by the pandemic, is the quarterly update requested by council.  Given staff turnover, the work plan for the next year FY 21-22 is even more unrealistic, but that is not reflected in the staff report.

EXPRESS YOUR OPINION: Readers are encouraged to email individual members of the council, the council as a whole, the city manager, and the city clerk. Note that emails to the city council as a whole are forwarded to the city manager, whereas emails to individual councilmembers are not. Clearly include in your subject line the topic or agenda item on which you are commenting:

RECAP – PLANNING COMMISSION – Tues, Sept. 14, 2021, Regular meeting

YouTube: 1 hr. 32 min.

The council has an work plan item to develop a City Plan to End Homelessness as well as a Homeless Jobs Program, but that message hasn’t gotten through to the council appointed chair of the Planning Commission, Ray Wang, who asserted that “we don’t have a homeless problem…we had a manufactured homeless crisis sponsored by some individuals”. Can Cupertino address the needs of the unhoused if its appointed officials sincerely believe it to be a hoax?

Consider amendments to Cupertino Municipal Code Sections 19.56.030 (Table 19.56.030), 19.56.030F, 19.56.040, and Table 19.56.040A and the addition of Section 19.56.080 (Density Bonus Ordinance) to allow density bonuses and other incentives as provided by state law and also to add a subsection in Section 19.56.040 providing additional incentives for affordable housing and a new Section 19.56.080 providing that the Density Bonus Ordinance will be interpreted consistent with state density bonus law. The commission spent an inordinate amount of time posturing and complaining about state efforts to remove local barriers to housing production (reacting, in particular, to the signing of  SB 1174 in favor of Vallco), before finally approving this on a 3-2 vote, with Chair Wang and Commissioner Madhdhipatla voting against complying with state law and avoiding a lawsuit. Readers will recall that the city faces a threat of litigation if it fails to bring its density bonus ordinance into compliance with AB 2345. Will council be more cognizant than the Planning Commission of the responsibility to comply with state law, regardless of personal opposition?

CUPERTINO COURIER, September. 17, 2021

The front page photo and article on page 5 feature the article Silicon Valley Open Studios: South Bay artists ready to welcome public inside. The Community brief on page 6 is Booking it, recognition of Amytha Willard, supervising librarian for Bookmobile Services for  the Santa Clara County Library District. Page 15 has the previously published article Cupertino says project approval about to expire, regarding Vallco.Page 32 has a legal notice  of a Sept. 28 Planning Commission Public Hearing for Changes to the General Plan and Municipal Code.

Warm regards,
Jean Bedord
Cupertino Matters
Publisher and Editor