A controversial Cupertino planning commissioner has been booted from his seat.
After nearly two hours of heated public comment from more than 60 residents, the Cupertino City Council voted 3-2 to remove R “Ray” Wang from the Planning Commission Tuesday. Mayor Hung Wei, Vice Mayor Sheila Mohan and Councilmember J. R. Fruen voted in favor, while Councilmembers Liang Chao and Kitty Moore voted against it.
“The action we are considering today has little to do with his knowledge of the planning process or his knowledge of housing issues, but it has everything to do with his conduct,” Mohan said. “There have been numerous incidents where R Wang crossed the line, repeatedly demeaned staff and made unsubstantiated allegations against them, and where his conduct had the potential to place the city at risk in terms of employment practices liability.”
Wang, who joined the planning commission in 2019, has faced criticism for repeatedly belittling city workers and harassing residents who don’t agree with him. City officials received more than 350 letters from residents ahead of the meeting about his removal.
Supporters of Wang said the allegations are one-sided and political in nature. Moore called on the council to create a formal process to review allegations leveled against commissioners to limit politically-charged attacks and focus on merit, but her motion failed to move forward.
“There is no policy in place for due process, (so) the city council has the curious position here as being the executive, legislative and judicial branches all rolled into one,” Moore said. “I’m deeply concerned for all of our commissioners who volunteer their time, effort and energy that we are sending a message the council is vengeful.”
Ahead of the vote, Wang said Fruen orchestrated efforts to remove him and claimed allegations made against him are false. Fruen, who was elected last year, called for Wang’s removal last month.
“We need to put an end to the vindictive politics of J.R. Fruen and his crowd,” Wang said at the meeting. “There’s really no need to continue this type of division of a city. We are all better than that.”
Fruen said there’s nothing divisive about holding Wang accountable.
“At the end of the day, I think you simply need to believe the people who are here telling their actual stories of what their experience is,” Fruen said. “If we can’t make this decision today, because we’re overly concerned with process, or because we’re concerned about the politics of the issue, then the bar for ethics in the city is on the floor.”
Residents are split
Residents who support Wang said the efforts to remove him are politically motivated, with some vowing to recall the elected officials who voted to remove Wang. Cupertino resident Lisa Warren said Wang deserves to stay on the planning commission because he has always prioritized residents’ interests.
“He is always willing to meet with community members to better understand individual issues,” she said at the meeting. “He is thoughtful and fair in his deliberations.”
But those who pushed for his removal said Wang is a bully who is unprofessional and unfit to serve as a planning commissioner.
Cupertino resident Jennifer Sharon said Wang has attacked her personally multiple times on Nextdoor. She was also threatened with a lawsuit from Wang for speaking about his misconduct, she said.
“It is well known that Mr. Wang is a very wealthy individual and has previously sued other individuals,” Sharon said at the meeting. “These issues are not about saving Cupertino from aggressive developments. These are about personal attacks, and we expect out of all of our commissioners the ends don’t justify the means.”
As a Cupertino planning commissioner, Wang took to Nextdoor to encourage people to contact the employer of Richard Mehlinger, a housing advocate and now a Sunnyvale councilmember, to get him “reprimanded” after he tweeted about Wang’s unprofessionalism. Wang, while serving as the planning commission chair, also threatened to sue a resident over social media posts he claimed defamed his character.
Former Cupertino Mayor and Planning Commissioner Steven Scharf said Wang has deep knowledge of the city’s issues and has a track record of standing up against housing developers.
“Ray has served Cupertino with integrity and distinction. He has never demonstrated any unethical behavior while serving as a planning commissioner,” Scharf said at the meeting, noting he spoke out as a resident. “Don’t do this. It’s uncalled for and unethical. It will reflect badly on our city and will have repercussions for the city.”
Former Councilmember Rod Sinks said Wang’s conduct has been troubling.
“We must be able to be in dialogue with each other to move the city forward, able to disagree while being civil and respectful of each other and refraining from personal attacks,” Sinks said. “We should hold everyone, elected, appointed or employed by the city, to a higher standard.”
Contact Tran Nguyen at [email protected] or follow @nguyenntrann on Twitter. Contact Jana Kadah at [email protected] or @Jana_Kadah on Twitter.
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