Planning Commission appointments come under fire

The partisan politics engulfing all corners of Cupertino have reached the planning commission with some residents demanding that one commissioner resign less-than-an hour into her term.

The commission now has a majority with sympathies for and even affiliations with the anti-growth group, Better Cupertino. R “Ray” Wang was reappointed and Catherine “Kitty” Moore and Vikram Saxena were appointed by the Better Cupertino-friendly City Council. All three were seated the evening of Feb. 12.

Residents had sharp words for the seemingly partisan commission, particularly for Moore, who is a plaintiff in a lawsuit against the City over the approval of Vallco Shopping Mall’s SB35 project. Residents also unearthed a Nextdoor post, reportedly by Moore, from February 2018 in which she hypothesizes that most of the people living at a future Vallco housing site would be male software developers employed by Apple, thus leading to potential prostitution, bars, strip clubs and other unsavory male behavior, particularly near young Cupertino High School girls.

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Speakers argued that Moore’s comments could be seen as prejudicial and discriminatory, and open up the city to lawsuits by way of violating State law. Sunnyvale resident Richard Mehlinger found the commission appointments offensive and penned a lengthy post about the matter. He spoke to the commission on Tuesday and demanded Moore resign from the commission stating she would be unable to carry out her duties and that she has “embarrassed the city.”

 “As a software engineer, I am offended that you appear to consider me a threat to the safety of Cupertino’s young women,” Mehlinger told the commission. “However, Commissioner Moore’s comments are so prejudicial and apply so broadly, that under common law, she is likely required to recuse herself form any development proposed by Apple, which she apparently believes to be a den of prostitution and vice, as well as any housing development that could conceivably serve Apple employees. That means most apartment buildings.”

Parth Bharwad said Moore’s comments were “shallow minded” and that she should not cast doubt on the character of Apple employees and other individuals and groups.

 “That’s not the kind of person I want representing me,” he told the commissioners, urging the commission to keep Moore “in line.”

Heather Dean lamented the partisan politics in the city.

 “I am beginning to think that our little community and our city has become a double tier and that there’s people for one thing and there’s people against. It’s not a community in my eye when it’s that way, and I hate to see it,” she said. “I certainly do hope that you represent all of us and don’t have your own interests and perhaps we can make Cupertino better. I would hope you would all swallow your beliefs and open your eyes to all of us and let all of us enjoy this wonderful city.”

Lisa Warren, a resident, expressed disappointment that the commission was “scolding and directing” each other. She felt it was unfair that Moore be singled out for the Nextdoor comment. She also hoped the general community could heal soon.

“We all know there’s a difference of opinion in the city at the moment. We all know there are people from outside the city coming in and stirring things up that don’t help the situation,” Warren said. “We know there are multiple things being said for at least three years on Nextdoor that are not always what they should be or taken out of context or written out of context. To attack one specific commissioner over something that may have been felt to be inappropriate by someone and ignore all the valuable and accurate and well-studied information that this same person has placed in front of the public is really petty.”

Faction politics were on display almost immediately Tuesday evening. The commission majority broke with tradition and chose not to appoint Vice Chairman Alan Takahashi as commission chairman. Commissioner David Fung made a motion to nominate him, and rather than second the motion for a vote, the three new commissioners sat silent and the motion failed. They instead opted to appoint Wang and Saxena as chairman and vice chairman, respectively.

In a methodical and deliberate manner, Takahashi asked each of the newly appointed commissioners why they sat silent rather than vote yes or no on his nomination to become chairman. The 24-year resident insinuated that the commissioners perhaps colluded to deny him the position. He politely lectured the three on the particulars of the Brown Act.

 “The effort to deviate from protocol is very political and it’s going to send these messages of conflict and it will erode trust,” Takahashi said, adding that his impartial beliefs made him the best choice for the chairman position and that he didn’t want the commission to turn into “us versus them.”

 “I guess my hopes were a little higher,” he added.

Fung also seemed disappointed with political nature of the appointments and urged the commission to set aside politics rather than “intensify” them.

Paulsen was gracious in his exit speech and offered to get coffee with the three new commissioners to share his insights.

The appointments came a month after the City Council voted to repeal its short-lived code of ethics. The code, among many things, specifically stated that all City commissions should serve the community rather than specific, individual council members and that appointments should be “based on criteria such as expertise, ability to work with staff and the public, and commitment to fulfilling official duties.” It further stated that a commission appointment should not be used as a political reward.

 The planning commission consists of five members appointed by the City Council to overlapping four-year terms. The commission’ advises the Council on land use matters such as specific and general plans, zonings and subdivisions. Meetings are scheduled for 6:45 p.m. on the second and fourth Tuesday of each month.