Cupertino Planning Commissioner under fire for doxing member of public

The City of Cupertino has received a complaint against Planning Commission Chairman R. “Ray” Wang for allegedly ‘doxing’ a Sunnyvale resident on social media outlets including Nextdoor and Twitter, in relation to ongoing disagreements about development in Cupertino.

Richard Mehlinger filed a complaint Tuesday morning for comments Wang made Sunday on Nextdoor in disclosing Mehlinger’s company and writing, “we’ll have to talk to Richard’s employer”. 

The comment came in concert with a tweet Sunday, in which Chairman Wang suggested to supporters, “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, and all their tweets, their digital and social comms to show their lack of civility. It goes a long way to getting them reprimanded and in some cases a dose of reality.” 

Wang’s posts followed a tweet Mehlinger wrote on Friday criticizing earlier posts by Chair Wang on Nextdoor in which he made “sweeping attacks on members of the public, including accusing them of being fascists, in connection to the ongoing redevelopment of (Vallco) Mall,” according to the complaint filed with the City.

The comments stemmed from a post in which Wang encouraged supporters to attend an upcoming meeting hosted by pro-development group YIMBY Neoliberal in San Francisco to “save our suburbs from an onslaught of anarchists and YIMBY Neoliberal fascists.”

YIMBY Action board member and community organizer Steven Buss joined Mehlinger at the Planning Commission meeting on Tuesday night to share their concerns with Chair Wang’s behavior during public comment, calling for a public apology and his resignation.

“Commissioner Wang, for you to threaten a member of the public’s job for criticizing you in your official capacity is undemocratic and unacceptable,” said Mehlinger. “Commissioners, your Chair is abusing his power,” said Buss.

Doxing, the practice of publishing private or identifying information about (a particular individual) on the Internet, typically with malicious intent, has become more commonplace particularly as political debate intensifies, with penalties becoming more stringent. In April, Palo Alto resident Rebecca Parker Mankey attracted national attention after posting pictures of a 74 year old man in a MAGA hat she encountered in a local Starbucks on social media and asking for assistance in tracking him down. In the aftermath of community backlash on both sides of the issue, Mankey was fired from her position and received death threats.

‘Chair Wang is attempting to intimidate me’

Wang’s social posts regularly include the disclaimer “speaking only for myself and not in any official capacity” and list his City email address for official communication. However in a tweet Monday, Wang appeared to contradict this position, posting “Mine is only for my business and not for reaching me [with respect to] public service.  I do not use my social media account in a public service capacity. I use nextdoor (sic) for that.”

Mehlinger called Wang’s behavior “outrageous’ and a “violation of the spirit if not the letter of the First Amendment and California Constitution Article 1 Section 2.a”.

“In short, Chair Wang is attempting to intimidate me and other members of the public for exercising our First Amendment rights by threatening our jobs.”

In his comments Tuesday night, Mehlinger added, “there is no way for you to respond to that criticism publicly in a personal capacity. Any response is inherently in your public capacity even if does not represent the City.”

This is not the first time Wang has used social media to confront opponents. He has engaged for months with Mehlinger, pro-growth YIMBY activists and others over issues related to development in Cupertino, including the fate of Vallco Mall, which falls under Wang’s jurisdiction as a Planning Commissioner. The property was approved for development in 2018 and is awaiting permits from the City to continue demolition and construction of Vallco Town Center project.

A public forum

The discussions have escalated in recent weeks. In April, a lengthy back and forth involved Wang and fellow commissioner David Fung, in which Wang asserted his intent to “stay objective on any housing issues that may arise before us” and hoped Fung would not “have to recuse yourself on tough issues ahead for conflict of interest or any bias issues,” citing Fung’s involvement with pro-growth collective CatalyzeSV. Fung responded, questioning Wang’s objectivity on land use policy and calling out Wang’s donation of “thousands of $$$$ to a PAC political campaign focused on restricting land use in Cupertino.”

In January, the City Council suspended its code of ethics and conduct after developing and ratifying it the previous November. At the time, the Council expected to revisit the issue by March, but no replacement has been forthcoming.

The rescinded code instructs City employees to “comply with both the letter and spirit of the law and policies affecting the operations of government and their respective roles and responsibilities,” and charges chairs of Commissions and the Mayor and Council with “additional responsibility to intervene when actions of members that appear to be in violation of the Code of Ethics and Conduct are brought to their attention.”

It also advises that it is “acceptable to publicly disagree about an issue, but it is not acceptable to make derogatory comments about other City Officials, their opinions, or actions,” and that in public forums, it is “never appropriate to make belligerent, personal, impertinent, slanderous, threatening, abusive, or disparaging comments.” 

The code further stipulates that Councilmembers in public forums and private encounters “practice civility and decorum in discussions and debate.”

It is unclear whether the City intends to review the matter.

In a statement shared with this publication, City Manager Deborah Feng responded to Mehlinger, “The City takes very seriously its officials’ duties to comply with all local, state and federal laws, including those concerning transparency and ethics. Commissioner Wang has received training on his duties (AB1234 training, named for the state law that requires it) and has been advised of best practices regarding city officials’ use of social media. Any NextDoor (sic) posts by Commissioner Wang are solely his personal statements.  He does not and cannot speak on behalf of the Planning Commission or the City in his posts.” 

Feng continued, “The City does not monitor NextDoor users’ posts about other users in Cupertino. NextDoor is a separate entity from the City and if you are concerned that Commissioner Wang’s behavior violates NextDoor’s policies, I encourage you to communicate your concerns to NextDoor.”

Cupertino Public Information Officer Brian Babcock provided Cupertino Today the following statement: “The City is aware of the incident. Any social media posts by Mr. Wang are solely his personal statements. He does not, and cannot, speak on behalf of the Planning Commission or the City in his personal posts.”