Mehlinger: Cupertino deserves better

This has been something of a surreal summer for me. Late this June, I saw some comments from Cupertino Commission Chair R. “Ray” Wang about the Vallco redevelopment, calling on his readers to “Save the suburbs from an onslaught of anarchists and YIMBY Neo Liberal fascists.”

Now I’m a resident of Sunnyvale, not Cupertino. But it’s been endlessly frustrating to watch Sunnyvale building housing even as Cupertino consistently refuses to. Cupertino’s obstruction means higher rents for Sunnyvale and the whole region. Irked, I tweeted that his comments were an “unhinged rant” and that he needed to recuse himself from Vallco.

My tweet caught Wang’s attention. He responded on Nextdoor: “well that’s fun =) we’ll have to talk to Richard’s employer, DropBox. =)”

He went on, “Next time you get harassed by a YIMBY track down their employer and send their HR, Legal, and CEO a letter outlining their YIMBY stance… It goes a long way to getting them reprimanded.”

Facing blow back, Wang prevaricated, claiming that he only wanted people to urge my employer to fund affordable housing — a claim he is still repeating on Nextdoor.

Wang is a public official. I am blessed with a job and financial security, but many others are not so lucky. For a public official to threaten his critics’ jobs chills freedom of speech. It violates the spirit if not the letter of the First Amendment, which Chair Wang is sworn to uphold. That on its own is grounds for removal.

But Wang is a prominent backer of Better Cupertino, the NIMBY faction which now Mayor Steven Scharf and Vice Mayor Liang Chao helped found. In 2016, Wang donated over $5,500 to a Better Cupertino led initiative to downzone the Vallco mall, which also put out mailers backing Scharf and Chao.

So perhaps unsurprisingly, Wang did not resign, nor was he removed. Mayor Scharf rapped his knuckles, Wang sent a non-specific apology to the Mercury News, and that appeared to be the end of the matter.

Now, thanks to excellent reporting by Janice Bitters in San José Spotlight, we learn that Wang’s behavior is a pattern. In 2003, Wang faced three counts of harassment, including two felonies, and pled no contest to one misdemeanor charge to avoid trial. He had allegedly subscribed then Redwood City Planning Commissioner (and future councilmember) Rosanne Foust to internet pornography, in an apparent bid to damage her reputation. He was angry with her over, of all things, a water recycling project.

When San José Spotlight reached Wang for comment, he alleged that he had been hacked by “developer interests for recycled water.” When the piece hit, Wang wrote on Nextdoor: “The developers have many paid means through fake blogs, fake news outlets, as they hire unemployed journalists to write content marketing for them.”

Remind you of anyone?

Wang’s pattern of behavior is clear. When criticized, he reacts with intimidation and harassment. When called on his behavior, he lies and spins, claiming to be the victim of ornate conspiracies.

Remind you of anyone?

What about Better Cupertino? One member took to Nextdoor to accuse the media of a “WITCH HUNT.” Another regretted that Wang couldn’t press slander charges. Library Commission Chair Liana Crabtree called it a “smear campaign,” claiming Wang had done nothing wrong and declaring that those who give public comment should weigh how their employers might react.

Remind you of anyone?

Faced with substantiated allegations of sexual harassment, Scharf, Wang and Better Cupertino are blaming the reporter, the news organization, outside agitators, shadowy developer conspiracies… everyone, that is, except the alleged perpetrator.

What we are seeing in Cupertino is the rise of Trump-style illiberalism. We see it in Wang’s habitual intimidation, in his insistence that he is the victim of a conspiracy and in the reaction of his political allies, who seem to consider every possibility except the most obvious: that he actually did what he pled no contest to doing.

We see it in Better Cupertino, whose supporters routinely show up en masse in their trademark red shirts to oppose new housing and heckle its supporters. Fundamentally, Better Cupertino believes newcomers are a threat and wants to keep them from the city.

But it is Mayor Scharf who most channels the baron of Mar-a-Lago. Scharf opened the year by wisecracking that Cupertino would “build the wall” and San Jose would pay for it. He led the repeal of the city’s code of ethics. He packed its commissions with people like Moore and Wang. He voted to repeal the Vallco Specific Plan after saying it should go to the voters. He lied to a San José Spotlight reporter, claiming that same Vallco Specific Plan included no affordable housing, when it included nearly 600 units. He then repeated those lies in a Mercury News op-ed. And he continues to tolerate Ray Wang.

Enough is enough. Cupertino deserves better than Better Cupertino. Next year, Mayor Scharf is up for reelection. Cupertino should vote him out.

Richard Mehlinger is a software engineer and pro-housing activist. He currently serves as Chair of Sunnyvale’s Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Commission and Vice Chair of Livable Sunnyvale, a local housing and sustainability advocacy organization. Opinions expressed in this article are solely his own. You can reach him at rmehlinger@gmail.com.

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