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.