Cupertino policymaker in hot water for past sexual harassment lawsuit

After making headlines for encouraging people to contact pro-growth activists’ employers to get them “reprimanded,” Cupertino Planning Commission Chair R “Ray” Wang is in hot water again — this time for a sexual harassment lawsuit that was buried for more than a decade.

Rosanne Foust, a top transportation leader, accuses Wang of sending sexually explicit images to her business email more than 15 years ago, culminating in a lawsuit in which Wang was charged for several offenses, but ultimately settled, getting two charges dismissed and pleading no contest to a third charge. That behavior, combined with his recent online exchanges, show he “should not be in any position of authority, period,” Foust told San José Spotlight.

Foust, a former Redwood City planning commissioner and city councilmember, is the current executive director for the San Mateo County Economic Development Association, known as SAMCEDA. Foust sued Wang in 2003 over alleged harassment via pornographic material that was emailed to her from various websites, which she said was spurred because she and Wang had differing political ideology. Wang pleaded no contest to one of the charges and paid her attorney’s fees, she said. That means he didn’t admit guilt, but also didn’t dispute the facts of the case at the time and settled before a jury trial.

“I think as women we do tend to want to just put it behind us, bury it, to say, ‘Okay, you know what? Move on,'” Foust said. “But I was really mad when I saw that he was trying to hurt somebody else.”

Wang this week denied sending pornographic images to Foust and said his computer was hacked.

In a recent interview, Wang was adamant that he was actually the victim of harassment and efforts by “developer interests” to work against him, both 15 years ago in Redwood City and today, as Cupertino continually finds itself at the center of the conversation on the region’s housing crisis.

But Foust says there are parallels between her experience with Wang more than a decade ago and recent online posts he made on Nextdoor, a neighborhood-specific social platform. Wang implied on the website last month he would contact the employer of a pro-growth activist, Richard Mehlinger, who had been critical of him on Twitter.

He also encouraged others in Cupertino who felt harassed by pro-growth activists known as YIMBYs — an acronym for Yes In My Back Yard — to “track down their employer and send their HR, Legal and CEO a letter outlining their YIMBY stance and all their tweets, their digital and social comms [sic] to show their lack of civility. It goes a long way to getting them reprimanded and in some cases a dose of reality.”

And though Foust hasn’t heard from Wang since the 2003 lawsuit, her interest was piqued when his name reappeared in news stories last month alongside those quotes.

“As soon as I saw that he was threatening somebody’s employment, I went, ‘Oh my God,’” she said. “That’s when I knew without even looking him up that it was the same person.”

Foust last month attempted to share her story with a Mercury News reporter and its editorial board.

She didn’t get a response from the Mercury News reporter, but Ed Clendaniel, editor of the paper’s Editorial pages, told her he’d recently written about Wang’s behavior so “I probably wouldn’t be interested in a follow up at this time, in terms of an editorial, but if he continues to act irresponsibly or runs for council, I would definitely be interested in talking.”

The idea of waiting to tell the story until Wang misbehaved again didn’t sit well with her, she said.

The summer of 2003

The lawsuit between Foust and Wang, filed in a San Mateo County Superior Court, came after Foust began receiving emails from pornographic websites for which someone else had registered her — a move she believes was aimed at tarnishing her reputation as she prepared to run for a seat on the Redwood City City Council in summer 2003.

An investigation revealed an IP address responsible for signing her up for some emails traced back to Wang’s then-home in Redwood Shores, according to judicial records obtained by San José Spotlight.

“This was before Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, any social media, and this is before the #MeToo movement,” Foust said in a recent interview. “This is before it all, and my reputation was — and still is to this day — the most precious thing in the world to me.”

A shot of R “Ray” Wang during a Cupertino planning commission meeting last month. Image credit: city of Cupertino public records

Wang countered that he believes Foust was signed up for pornography websites by “developer interests,” which he alleges hacked into his computer network in an attempt to frame him due to his pushback at the time against using recycled water in development projects.

“What I can tell you is I believe developer interests for recycled water hacked my network and allegedly framed me,” he said in a statement.

When asked for documents or information related to the hack, including indications he investigated a hack or claimed to Foust and her attorney at the time that he’d been hacked before settling the case, Wang demurred. He indicated that he had a poorly secured network at the time and he opted to settle.

Foust said this is the first time she’d heard about a hack on Wang’s network being the cause of the pornography sent to her email and that she was “shocked” by his response.

Meanwhile, a search of county records show Wang also served community service in 2004 due to a criminal case in which he pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of “making annoying telephone call to place of work” that same summer. It’s unclear from the documents who received the “annoying” calls and Wang declined to comment except to say, “there’s nothing to talk about, people can make allegations,” though he confirmed he performed community service for the charge.

In all, the 2003 cases were settled and expunged, though some court documents remain available to the public.

Nextdoor in Cupertino

Fast forward to 2019, and Wang was appointed to the Cupertino Planning Commission in January. The city, like many, fills spots on the commission by conducting an informal interview with applicants and then holding a vote by councilmembers.

After his appointment, Wang made waves last month when he encouraged residents via Nextdoor to attend a meeting of a group that goes by the name YIMBY Neoliberal. Real estate developer Sand Hill Property Co.’s spokesperson Matt Larson spoke at the meeting as the Palo Alto-based developer pushes forward with a controversial redevelopment of Cupertino’s Vallco mall.

Wang told constituents to “defend Cupertino and our way of life” by attending the meeting and sharing negative views and information about Sand Hill.

Mehlinger on Twitter called Wang’s post an “unhinged rant” and suggested Wang could not be impartial when it comes to the Vallco redevelopment and should recuse himself from discussions and decisions related to the issue.

Wang’s response on Nextdoor was: “Well that’s fun =) we’ll have to talk to Richard’s employer, DropBox. [sic] =)”

The following day, Wang also told residents the next time they feel harassed by a YIMBY to track down those activists’ employers in order to have them “reprimanded and in some cases a dose of reality.”

Wang said in an interview this week the comments were misconstrued and that he did not attack Mehlinger. His suggestion to contact YIMBY employers was meant as advice to a private citizen who was being harassed, Wang added, and he welcomes Mehlinger at future planning commission meetings.

He also pointed out that he participated in a now-deleted thread about contacting employers of YIMBYs to encourage their participation in a housing trust, which is a mechanism to invest in affordable housing.

Wang added that “an apology was issued to Richard Mehlinger for that behavior.”

Indeed, Wang published an apology in the Mercury News, though he remains adamant that he’s the victim of harassment, framing himself and some residents in Cupertino as a proverbial David to developers’ and pro-growth interests’ Goliath.

“As you can tell, there are larger forces beyond my control who do wish for pro-growth and development,” Wang said in a statement. “They are well funded, well organized. The common resident has no resources at their disposal to voice or make objections without being squashed, outed, or threatened in the press.”

Mehlinger said he doesn’t think Wang’s recent apology for “inflammatory comments” went far enough and he’s asked that the Planning Commission chair resign or be removed from his position.

“In my opinion, he’s unfit for public office,” Mehlinger said, adding that he felt Wang’s comments constitute “a public official retaliating against a member of the public for exercising their first amendment rights.”

Cupertino Mayor Steven Scharf did not respond to requests for comment about Foust’s lawsuit and recent events.

The mayor told a San José Spotlight reporter earlier this month during a housing panel discussion that Wang’s comments on Nextdoor “were totally inappropriate comments,” adding, “I know he’s apologized, maybe it’s not enough and I think he knows to behave better in the future.”

And while Foust said she believes Wang’s behavior to be potentially patterned and disqualifying, Wang said he doesn’t agree.

“Maybe the pattern is that when residents stick up for their beliefs against developer interests they can expect to be attacked,” he said.

Contact Janice Bitters at janice@sanjosespotlight.com or follow @JaniceBitters on Twitter.

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