Cupertino City Manager Reviewed After Housing Blunder

After a missed email exposed Cupertino to litigation, some wondered if City Manager Deborah Feng would be shown an open door.

Heading up the city’s annual $120 million operation since June 2019, Feng faced a closed-door performance evaluation on May 11—one week after she neglected to inform council members that a new Cupertino housing zoning ordinance up for a vote had been flagged by state housing officials. At the end of the closed door meeting, city officials said they had not taken any "reportable" action, meaning they'd not made a decision that was required to be explained to the public.

At 4pm May 3, the State of California's Housing and Community Development Department emailed Feng saying the city’s new ordinance to allow more affordable housing in Cupertino should not be approved, as it was inferior to existing state law. As first reported by San Jose Inside, the law would have let affordable housing projects be bigger, but it failed to also create a bypass option for costly rules, like height limits, retail restrictions and parking requirements, which can prevent construction.

Opening and responding to emails like the one sent by the HCD is expressly required as part of Feng's $239,000 base salary duties.

Despite the letter arriving in Feng’s inbox more than 24 hours before the decision, elected officials were seemingly unaware of the state’s advice not to adopt the housing ordinance, so they passed it with little fanfare last week.

Feng apologized to the City Council and met with HCD reps Monday.

“The fact that I had not reviewed or forwarded the letter from HCD prior to the City Council meeting was a complete oversight on my part,” Feng said in a statement. “The City Council should have had this information to consider prior to making their decision and I deeply regret this mistake.”

Other cities have remedied similar legal concerns by repealing inferior ordinances, and not everyone in City Hall thinks the mistake is grounds for Feng’s termination, which would come with a $60,000 severance.

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  1. Maybe Feng and Santa Clara’s Brian Doyle can form a consulting group, Dim and Dimwitted

  2. City Manager Deborah Feng has been a thoughtful, hard working, and responsible leader throughout her tenure serving Cupertino.

    Meanwhile, the department of Housing & Community Development (HCD) seems to serve to bully communities for no good reason except that they can.

    It would be a waste to sacrifice the City Manager over a failure to jump because a bully yelled “Jump!”.

  3. Deb Feng is a wonderful leader and she is truly appreciated by the community. This isolated incident speaks to the quick paced demands of this job and not a lack of transparency. If this letter was so important- why didn’t HCD provide adequate time for the City to review and respond? This isn’t newsworthy.

  4. Tell the State of California to go pound salt.

    It is past time to prohibit “super-majorities” in our government.

    The stinking legislature wants everyone to be dependent upon their piss-poor decisions.

    Feng did her spineless City Council a favor.

    Recall Newsom with extreme prejudice!

    David S. Wall

  5. A charter city may have an elected mayor, or not, as specified in its “charter” and California has examples of both no matter how much you “DON’T LIKE” our STATE law. In fact, Newsom was an example of the former and Cupertino isn’t a charter city anyway. Why don’t you eat it and die and take him along?

  6. Certain State Legislators push for extractive development to benefit investors with no regard for impact to communities, housing affordability, and the environment. HCD is the enforcer of unsustainable land use mandates pushed onto cities by the Legislature.

    Cupertino is among a growing group of communities rejecting heavy-handed authoritarianism from the State Legislature.

    Local legislators who push back against State control of local land use:

    Pushback against State control of land use from residents in another Bay Area community:

    Housing Is a Human Right (not a commodity to be leveraged for the financial benefit of the fewest):

  7. “…BUT theses same politicians are OPPOSED to INCLUSIONARY housing, which so far is the only reliable method of getting more affordable housing….”

    I disagree. I see these Cupertino Council Members standing against extraction capitalism in local real estate markets.

    Commercial real estate investors will never build enough affordable housing. Affordable housing is not supportive of their business model.

    For-profit real estate developers will build too many very tall, very expensive buildings with tiny micro units that almost no one (except investors) want.

    We are long overdue for public investment, public ownership in safe, sustainable housing that families and individuals of modest means can afford.

    “Streamlining” laws that exist to maximize for-profit investment in California real estate—such as AB 2345 and many others—do little more than socialize the costs of private real estate investment. If the public is going pay for housing (through entitlements or infrastructure waivers), it should own the housing and the property and hold onto both for public benefit for years to come.

    And do pay attention to The Shift ( and the recognition of the Housing Is a Human Right movement. The need to separate housing from extractive capital investment only grows.

  8. Urban land is overvalued. It is priced according to what investors are willing to pay for it, not at the price that regular people can afford to pay for housing.

    And money invested in land does not circulate, it just locks up capital until the property owner (probably an anonymous LLC) finally decides to sell. Then the new property owner steps in to lock up new capital or debt obligation into the same land. And if an LLC owner, that land may never “sell” for generations.

    When we add density to neighborhoods (taller buildings, shorter setbacks, more units), we make the land more valuable because greater density means more developed square footage per acre to sell to investors.

    The problem of overvalued land plagues cities across the world. City leaders are starting to pushback creatively.

    Berlin is one city considering real disincentives to discourage investment interest in its real estate, including multi-year rent freezes and expropriations that would cap the number of apartments a single corporation could own. Government would buy back from corporate landlords the apartments owned above the threshold maximum and repurpose for public housing use:

    There are critics of both ideas, of course, but public enthusiasm to limit corporate ownership of housing runs high.

  9. I hear Feng quit – walked out too! Couldn’t stand working with the crazy city council I guess. That or she couldn’t get san Jose to pay for the wall council wanted.

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