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Frequently Asked Questions

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about the General Plan Amendment and Housing Element Update projects, and local School District enrollment projections and operations. The City will continue to update the FAQs as the projects move forward, so please check back often.

Last updated December 1, 2014

General Plan Amendment FAQs

1. What is a General Plan?

The General Plan is a regulatory document that includes goals and policies that set the “ground rules” for conserving resources, designing new projects, expanding public services and improving community amenities. It covers a wide variety of issues, ranging from urban design and mobility to public health and safety. 

Every city in California is required to adopt and regularly update a General Plan. It functions as the City’s primary regulatory document and must be used as the basis for all planning-related decisions. 

2. Why is the City amending the General Plan?

In August 2012, the City Council directed staff to begin a General Plan amendment to replenish citywide office, commercial, and hotel development allocations, consolidate individual General Plan amendment requests from property owners, and  review the future of the Vallco Shopping District, In November 2013, upon receiving the final regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) numbers for Cupertino (explained later in the Housing Element FAQ section), the City initiated an update of the State-mandated Housing Element of the General Plan. The 2012-2022 Housing Element, which is a required component of the General Plan, identifies policies and locations for future housing in Cupertino. The Housing Element Update was combined with the General Plan Amendment process so the City and community could fully evaluate and discuss issues in one comprehensive outreach and planning process.

3. How long is the process to amend the General Plan?

The General Plan Amendment process is anticipated to take 18 months, starting in March 2013 and concluding with City Council adoption of the amended plan in late 2014. The schedule for the Housing Element is mandated by the State and is discussed in the Housing Element FAQs. For the General Plan Amendment and Housing Element process and schedule, please visit the Schedule page.

4. How has the City engaged the community in the amendment process?

Throughout the General Plan Amendment process, the City has engaged local residents, property owners and business owners in order to gather their valuable thoughts, expectations and concerns about the future of Cupertino. Opportunities for engagement have included postcards sent to every postal customer in Cupertino, community workshops, online comment forms, neighborhood meetings and surveys. The most recent community workshop was held on November 20, 2014, and was focused on housing, including Housing law requirements, potential Housing Element sites, and how the school districts plan for new housing. The Planning Commission and City Council have also held several meetings specifically related to the project. Please visit the Events page to view upcoming opportunities for input, and visit the homepage to view materials from previous workshops and meetings. 

5. How has community input been used during this General Plan Amendment process?

Community input has been integral throughout the General Plan Amendment and Housing Element process. Through workshop discussions, interactive exercises and online surveys, community input has helped to shape the Concept Alternatives Report (including the draft 2040 Community Vision and Guiding Principles) on topics including the type and location of new land uses, heights and densities, and has also been used to develop emerging General Plan policy changes. This input is reflected in the Workshop #1 Summary and the Mobility and Design Concepts Summary. All materials and comments received from these community forums and events, including the recent November 20, 2014, Community Workshop, are provided to the City Council for their review and consideration.

6. Was there an environmental review prepared for the project?

Yes. The City is required by the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) to consider the physical changes that could result as a consequence of the project. To provide a comprehensive environmental analysis, one environmental document, referred to as an Environmental Impact Report or EIR, was prepared for both the General Plan Amendment and Housing Element Update. A copy of the full EIR is available here

7. Are other public agencies involved in the General Plan Amendment process?

While the General Plan is ultimately a City document that is specific to Cupertino, many other public agencies are involved directly or indirectly in both its implementation and ultimate success. These agencies include Cupertino Union School District, Fremont Union High School District, De Anza College, adjacent cities and many others. The City has met with these agencies throughout the process, and these agencies will have opportunities to provide feedback and comments on the project.

In addition to the local agencies, the General Plan must also consider and address requirements from larger regional agencies such as the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG), Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), and Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA). Additional details about these agencies are provided in the questions and responses below.

8. What is the Association of Bay Area Governments and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission?

The Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) is a regional planning agency that is comprised of the various local governments (9 counties and 101 cities) throughout the Bay Area. The agency primarily deals with regional land use, housing, environmental quality and economic development issues. You can learn more about their responsibilities and structure by visiting:

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) is a regional agency that is responsible for the planning and financing of major transportation projects in the nine-county Bay Area. You can learn more about their responsibilities and structure by visiting:

9. What authority do ABAG and MTC have in Cupertino?

Cupertino, along with all nine counties and 101 cities in the Bay Area, is a member of both ABAG and MTC. As advisory organizations, ABAG and MTC have limited statuary authority in Cupertino. ABAG and MTC’s objective is to promote a more efficient, equitable and environmentally sustainable region through partnerships with city and county governments. Ultimately, the two organizations are governing bodies which oversee the regional planning needs of the entire Bay Area.

10. What is Plan Bay Area and how does it affect Cupertino?

Plan Bay Area is a long-range plan to accommodate future population growth in the region while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from cars and light trucks. Plan Bay Area was prepared and adopted by ABAG and MTC, and is a direct result of California’s 2008 Senate Bill 375 which requires the state’s 18 metropolitan areas to develop Sustainable Communities Strategies (SCS).Plan Bay Area affects the City of Cupertino directly in that the regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) targets assigned to Cupertino by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG) were based on population projections in Plan Bay Area. For more information related to RHNA and ABAG, please refer to the Housing Element FAQs.

The plan advocates the expansion of housing and employment near areas with multi-modal transportation choices (i.e., transit, auto, bicycle and pedestrian) in order to create healthier communities and ultimately a stronger regional economy. While the plan is advisory to Cupertino, certain development and transportation projects can receive regulatory streamlining and grant funding if they are consistent with Plan Bay Area.   

11. What is the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority and what do they do?

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is a special purpose district that oversees public transit services, congestion management, certain highway improvement projects and countywide transportation planning for Santa Clara County. VTA operates three light rail lines, bus lines and paratransit. You can learn more about their responsibilities and structure by visiting:

12. What is the current status of the Bus Rapid Transit project?

VTA is currently analyzing ways to improve transit service along Santa Clara County’s three busiest transit corridors with some level of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). This includes upgrades along Stevens Creek Boulevard from De Anza College to downtown San Jose. This is a potential project for VTA, and more information is available at:

It is anticipated that this project will consist of improvements in technology and infrastructure as well as new vehicles allowing riders to travel faster and more comfortably with more frequent service and improved reliability. While VTA is analyzing several options for improved transit service (including infrastructure/technology upgrades and a dedicated lane of travel for VTA vehicles), each City in which changes may be proposed has the authority to determine which improvements will be allowed within the City’s right-of-way. 

13. How can I get involved and provide input?

We want to hear from you! We encourage you to participate by attending workshops and public meetings, completing surveys, and submitting your comments either through the website or by contacting City staff (see information below).

Housing Element FAQs

1. What is a Housing Element and why do we need it?

According to the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD):

“State law recognizes the vital role local governments play in the supply and affordability of housing. Each governing body (City Council or Board of Supervisors) of a local government in California is required to adopt a comprehensive, long-term general plan for the physical development of the city, city and county, or county. The housing element is one of the seven mandated elements of the local general plan. Housing element law, enacted in 1969, mandates that local governments adequately plan to meet the existing and projected housing needs of all economic segments of the community. The law acknowledges that, in order for the private market to adequately address housing needs and demand, local governments must adopt land use plans and regulatory systems which provide opportunities for, and do not unduly constrain, housing development. As a result, housing policy in the State rests largely upon the effective implementation of local general plans and, in particular, local housing elements. Housing element law also requires the Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) review local housing elements for compliance with State law and to report its written findings to the local government.”

Having a Housing Element that is approved by City Council and certified by the HCD also allows the City to apply and be competitive for state-funded grants and loans that support local housing programs.

2.  Why is the City updating the Housing Element?

State law requires that the Housing Element be updated periodically. The cycle for updating the Housing Element in past cycles have ranged between five years to ten years depending on the region and the Housing Element cycle. Past cycles for the Bay Area have been as follows:

  • First cycle – 1980-1990 (ten-year cycle)
  • Second cycle – 1988-1995 (seven-year cycle – contains overlap with previous cycle)
  • Third cycle – 1999-2006 (seven-year cycle)
  • Fourth cycle – 2007-2014 (seven-year cycle)
  • Fifth (current) cycle – 2014-2022 (eight-year cycle). 

3.   Why is the planning period for the Housing Element eight years now instead of seven?

As a result of Senate Bill 375, which was signed by the Governor in late 2008, the planning period for the Housing Element increased from seven to eight years.

4. How did SB 375 change the Housing Element process?

With the change to the Housing Element planning period from seven to eight years, cities and counties are now required to coordinate planning for future housing development along with regional transportation and land use planning that is part of the Metropolitan Transportation Plan (MTP) process. The goal is to promote sustainable development by placing new housing near jobs, services and transit in order to reduce vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gas emissions.

5. What must be included in a Housing Element?

The requirements for local housing elements are specified in Government Code Sections 65583 – 65583.2. The primary requirements are listed below:

  • Analysis of existing needs, including the number of people living in substandard or overcrowded housing, people paying more for their homes than they can sustainably afford, people with special housing needs, and affordable units at risk of converting to market rate.
  • Analysis of projected needs, including the allocation of income-specific housing needs developed by the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG).
  • A site inventory that is adequate to meet a jurisdiction’s regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) where housing development is allowed at appropriate densities to meet the required affordability requirements (discussed later).
  • Analysis of government controls on housing development.
  • Programs, policies and objectives that the city will adopt to assist the development of housing for different income and special needs groups, ensure equal housing opportunity, and preserve and improve the existing housing stock.

6. What is the Regional Housing Needs Allocation (RHNA) in the Housing Element and who decides?

State law requires each city and county to plan for their “fair share” of the region’s housing needs, including affordable units. The fair share is determined as follows:

  • HCD is required to determine the regional housing needs allocation (RHNA), by income category, for each Council of Governments (COG) in a metropolitan area. RHNA is based on Department of Finance population projections and regional population forecasts used in preparing regional transportation plans.
  • The COGs are required to allocate to each locality a share of housing need totaling the RHNA for each income category.  For the nine-County San Francisco Bay Area (which also includes 101 cities), the COG is the Association of Bay Area Governments (ABAG). 

7. How does ABAG allocate the RHNA?

ABAG convenes a Housing Methodology Committee for every RHNA cycle to determine the methodology to allocate units among various jurisdictions. For the 2014-2022 Housing Element cycle, the formula for distribution was based on Plan Bay Area (discussed below)

ABAG uses a formula with weighted criteria to accomplish housing objectives and allocates the housing units.  Recently ABAG has also focused on locating growth near public transportation nodes to minimize greenhouse gas emissions as mandated by the State per SB 375 (a law adopted in 2008). The method for the current allocation can be found at:

8. What is Cupertino’s RHNA for the 2014-2022 planning cycle and how does it compare with the requirements of past cycles for Cupertino?

Cupertino’s RHNA allocation for the 2014-2022 planning period is 1,064 residential units. The allocation of residential units by affordability is shown in the following table: 

Income Category
Very Low
Housing Need

*Since January 1, 2014, 30 residential units have been constructed in Cupertino.  Also, 32 second units were built during the last planning cycle. This number is anticipated to be the same for the 2014-2022 planning cycle, and therefore, the City may take credit for 32 units.  As a result of the 30 constructed units and 32 second unit credits, the resulting RHNA target is now 1,002 residential units.

For comparison purposes, the following table identifies the City’s RHNA requirements of past cycles:

Planning Cycle
Very Low
Above Moderate

When updating a Housing Element, HCD is recommending that cities identify sites that can accommodate more than the minimum number of housing units required; up to 25%-40% above the RHNA, particularly if those sites are mixed-use sites or already developed with existing buildings.  The surplus ensures that cities and counties meet the minimum RHNA requirement even if some of the housing sites are developed with non-residential uses. The recommendation is in response to a revision to State Housing Element law in 2009 which includes a ‘no net loss’ provision. The “no net loss” provision generally states that if a housing site is developed with fewer units than shown in the Housing Element, the City must either make a finding that the remaining sites identified in the Housing Element are adequate to meet the regional need or find other sites to replace the units to make up the RHNA. As a result, the recommendation is to adopt a list of sites equivalent to about 1,400 units.

9. How does Cupertino’s RHNA compare with the RHNA of other cities/jurisdictions in Santa Clara County?

The table below shows how Cupertino ranks in comparison with other cities in the County with respect to existing and projected population and the corresponding RHNA targets. It is interesting to note that while Cupertino’s population is 3.27% of Santa Clara County, the City’s RHNA represents only 1.8% of the region’s total housing need for the planning cycle. This may reflect a shift in the allocation methodology towards encouraging growth in areas where public transportation nodes currently exist.

The final allocation data by jurisdiction/county for the nine county Bay Area region can be found at: needs/data.html.


10. Is the City required to build all the units identified in its share of the RHNA?

No, the City does not have to build these units. The City does have to ensure that it has a sufficient supply of land zoned to accommodate the units identified in its share of the RHNA. For the City’s lower-income portion of the RHNA, the City must have vacant or underutilized land that is zoned residential or residential mixed-use at a density of 20 dwelling units per acre or higher (20 du/ac).

11. What is the City’s obligation regarding affordable housing?

State law requires cities to demonstrate that there are sufficient sites available that can accommodate the amount of housing need identified in the RHNA. Zoning that allows a density of 20 units per acre or more is considered appropriate for affordable housing for Santa Clara County.

12. Who prepares and reviews the Housing Element?

The City of Cupertino prepares and adopts the Housing Element, but it must also be certified by the California Department of Housing and Community Development (HCD) for compliance with State law.

13. What happens if Cupertino does not adopt a Housing Element by January 31, 2015 (plus 120-day grace period) or the Element does not comply with State law?

Over the years, the State of California has steadily increased the penalties for not having a legally compliant Housing Element.  If HCD finds that the City has failed to comply with the State’s Housing Element Law, there can be serious consequences that could include:

  1. Limited access to State Funding.  When reviewing and approving funding applications, both the California Infrastructure and Economic Development Bank (CIEDB) and the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) take into consideration whether or not the community has a certified Housing Element.
  2. Lawsuits from developers and housing advocates. A number of Bay Area cities have been successfully sued including Menlo Park, Corte Madera, Pittsburg, Pleasanton, Alameda, Benicia, Fremont, Rohnert Park, Berkeley, Napa County and Santa Rosa.  Potential consequences of being sued could include:
    • Mandatory compliance – The court may order Cupertino to bring the Housing Element into compliance within 120 days, which limits community input.
    • Suspension of local control on building matters – The court may suspend the City’s authority to issue building permits or grant zoning changes, variances or subdivision map approvals.
    • Court approval of housing developments – The court may step in and approve housing projects, including large projects the community may not want.
    • Payment of attorney fees - If Cupertino faces a court action stemming from a lack of compliance and either loses or settles the case, we may have to pay substantial attorney fees to the plaintiff’s attorneys in addition to the fees paid to our own attorneys. These fees can easily exceed $100,000.
  3. Carryover of unfilled housing allocation. If the City fails to identify or make available adequate sites to accommodate our assigned RHNA target, we would be required to carry over the unfilled housing allocation into the next housing element planning period. Therefore, in addition to identifying sites for the new period’s RHNA, the City would also be required within the first year of the new planning period to zone adequate sites to accommodate the RHNA from the prior planning period that was not provided.

Per State law, if a local government on an eight-year planning cycle fails to adopt the housing element within 120 days of the statutory due date (January 31, 2015), the jurisdiction is required to update the housing element every four years until adopting at least two consecutive revisions by the applicable due dates. Therefore, if the City does not adopt a housing element for 2015-2023 by May 31, 2015 (which includes the 120-day grace period), it  will be required to adopt a housing element every four years (in 2019 and, again, in 2023).

14. What happens if the City does not rezone Housing Element sites at the time of Housing Element adoption?

If the current zoning for a City does not provide adequate sites for all income groups to meet the regional need, the Housing Element must include a program to rezone sites within three years. As mentioned earlier, sites with a land use and zoning designation that allows a minimum of 20 dwelling units per acre qualify as affordable housing sites.  If any site is not rezoned within the required timeframe, the City cannot disapprove a project on the site if it is consistent with the Housing Element.

15. How does the City’s Housing Element process align with the General Plan Amendment process currently underway? 

The Housing Element Update was combined with the General Plan Amendment process so the City and community could fully evaluate and discuss issues in one comprehensive outreach and planning process. Both projects are also evaluated under one Environmental Impact Report (EIR). In order for either process to move forward and be approved, the City Council must first certify the EIR for compliance with state environmental law.

16. Is the GPA required to be adopted with the Housing Element?

Because the Housing Element is a chapter of the General Plan, updating the Housing Element essentially requires amending the General Plan.  State law requires that all the elements of the General Plan be internally consistent.  In addition, the General Plan also includes update policy language to reflect revisions required per State law, to describe new legislation and requirements that apply to the City.  Therefore, the update policy language in the General Plan which relates to State requirements and amendments related to the Housing Element and Housing Element sites would have to be adopted in order to ensure that the Housing Element and the rest of the General Plan are consistent. 

17. How can you get involved and stay informed?

The public will have multiple opportunities for participation in this process, including community workshops and public meetings. For more information, please refer to the Get Involved! page. We would love to hear from you!

School District FAQs

The following questions were generated at the November 20, 2014, Community Workshop. The responses below are provided by the Fremont Union High School District.  Responses from the Cupertino Union School District will be added once available.

1. Do apartment complexes pay one parcel tax?

Parcel taxes are generally approved in California as a fixed amount for each parcel of land as defined by the assessor’s office within the school district attendance area. General bonds are normally based on the assessed value of the property so the amount paid is larger for high priced parcels of land. So the short answer is “yes”. We are aware that parcel taxes are regressive and in certain ways unfair, but they are unfortunately a major way schools currently have to raise funds for operating costs.

2. How do rising home prices/rents affect student enrollment?

For the Fremont Union High School District, we can say with some certainty that higher academic achievement in local schools tend to positively affect housing values and rents. There appears to be a very strong correlation that higher performing schools increase housing values.

The effect on housing prices and student enrollment is harder to predict in our opinion. Home prices in the Cupertino and Sunnyvale area have generally outperformed the real estate market while we have simultaneously experienced an increase in enrollment. A byproduct of rising housing costs in the future could be that some families will not be able to afford to move or live here which would impact student enrollment. 

3. Do projections take renters into account? What is the number of children per apartment complex?

Yes, the Fremont Union High School District projections do include students that live in rental units. The student generation rate for apartment complexes is different from single-family homes and also differs within the type and age of multi-unit complexes.  The demographer that works with the Fremont Union High School District understands the nuances that exist within these differences and confirms that older multi-unit complexes tend to have a higher student generation rate than the newer and often smaller units associated with newer multi-unit developments.

4. Do development fees cover costs for school facility needs? Is it a fact that the more development equals more taxes?

Developer fee amounts are governed by the State. The fees do help defray some cost but they do not cover the full cost of the enrollment growth in all cases.

5. Cupertino High shows continuous growth – why add more housing?

The number of students attending Cupertino High School is increasing but for many years it was the smallest school in the Fremont Union High School District. Currently Cupertino High School has approximately 2,150 students which is very similar in size to Fremont High School and smaller than Monta Vista and Homestead High Schools.

6. Do projections adjust after large housing developments get built? What are the true numbers?

Yes, the projections and student generation are adjusted annually based on experience.

7. Do high density residential projects impact schools?  Are parcel taxes in response to increased density?

Student generation rates per unit are generally the highest for single family homes. High density residential projects generally have a lower generation rate per unit but since they are “dense” they tend to have more units per square foot of land.


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