The exterior of Cupertino City Hall
Cupertino City Hall. The city is subject to some developers utilizing builder's remedy to move their projects forward after officials missed a state housing deadline. Photo by Annalise Freimarck.

Housing advocates have made it clear that they are not going to let Cupertino shirk its responsibilities without ramifications.

Housing organizations Yes in My Backyard Law (YIMBY Law) and the California Housing Defense Fund won a judgment against Cupertino after the city failed to submit a housing plan to the state by the Jan. 31, 2023 deadline. The plan, known as a housing element, requires the city to show how it will meet its obligation to construct 4,588 homes by 2031 to keep pace with its population.

Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Mary Arand ruled on Jan. 8 that Cupertino must allow developers who filed affordable housing projects after the city’s missed deadline to use builder’s remedy — a state law that exempts developers from local zoning regulations.

The ruling is in effect until Cupertino gets its housing element approved by the state, expected in April or May. Of the 4,588 homes required, 1,880 must be designated as affordable.

Cupertino Deputy City Manager Tina Kapoor said the judgment is a win.

“The goal is to promote balanced growth, which includes affordable housing,” she told San José Spotlight. “We want more spaces in our city that people can call home.”

Kapoor added Cupertino is not alone in struggling to meet its state housing requirements. Last year, San Jose sent its housing element back to the state after it missed its approval for nearly a year.

Neighboring San Jose is already experiencing the ramifications of missing the deadline.

Multiple projects in the city have been affected. The San Jose Swim and Racquet Club is slated for demolition, to be replaced by 75-townhomes under builder’s remedy. Another massive project, the Berryessa BART Urban Village, is being scaled back because of an unfavorable real estate market, which will cost San Jose thousands of homes.

The affordable housing projects laid out in Cupertino’s plan consist of two varieties: projects that include 20% low or very low-income housing and projects deemed 100% affordable housing for residents making near the median income.

The median household income in Cupertino was more than $223,600 in 2022, according to the U.S. Census. In Santa Clara County, the area median income for a single person was just under $127,000 in 2023, according to the Department of Housing and Community Development.

Keith Diggs, attorney for YIMBY Law, said he hopes the judgment addresses Cupertino’s lack of affordable housing and will help service workers who commute into the city.

“(Cupertino’s) been a place where the world’s best and brightest have all wanted to come. It’s still a great place to work,” Diggs told San José Spotlight. “There’s just not a whole lot of places to live.”

The judgment follows opposition from Cupertino residents to more development. The developer of the Vallco Mall site, which was set to be the largest housing project in the city’s history, scaled back plans last year after facing high interest rates, rising costs and delays.

Cupertino Councilmember Kitty Moore said she opposes the judgment due to environmental concerns. The housing element does not require projects to meet California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) regulations, and gives it a lighter review process called an environmental assessment.

“CEQA involves the public with public disclosure of environmental impacts to mitigate those impacts as possible, and to ultimately keep workers and residents informed and safe,” Moore told San José Spotlight. “This exemption from CEQA is not a win for anyone.”

All builder’s remedy projects have to meet CEQA requirements, according to YIMBY Law. Last year, state Sen. Dave Cortese’s Senate Bill 406 passed, granting local agencies who help fund housing an exemption from a provision of CEQA.

Better Cupertino, a local organization that generally opposes new development, could not be reached for comment.

Diggs said Cupertino residents shouldn’t be concerned about new housing developments.

“Change is going to be necessary, but we’re not trying to take anyone’s existing homes away,” he said. “We’re just trying to make it possible for more people to have homes in growing communities.”

Contact Annalise Freimarck at [email protected] or follow @annalise_ellen on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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