Note: This story has been updated to correct a factual error about Lee Eng's Nov. 24 vote.
The ongoing conflict playing out at Los Altos City Council meetings between an Asian-American council member and a young Black activist continues to impede the city’s business and extend council meetings well past midnight. With mediation currently off the table, there is no in sight to the impasse.
Los Altos City Councilmember Lynette Lee Eng has doubled down on her assertion from more than five months ago that she was the victim in a controversial text exchange with Kenan Moos, and if anyone should apologize, it should be him.
Speaking publicly on the matter for the first time since November, Lee Eng at the April 27 council meeting rejected the allegation that she felt threatened by Moos after receiving his text messages in reaction to her vote on a police reform initiative.
“What I did say at that council meeting is that I wanted to explain my vote in order to protect myself and my family, after receiving text messages saying my supporters were racists and promising my name would be all over the papers,” Lee Eng said in a prepared statement.
She abstained Nov. 24 on an initiative adding a third-party auditor to take in complaints against the police department. Her vote prompted Moos, a Los Altos resident and leader of the social activist group Justice Vanguard, to text Lee Eng expressing his disappointment.
Moos and his supporters have spoken at every council meeting since, asserting that Lee Eng’s reaction reinforced a racial stereotype about threatening Black men. They have repeatedly called on the council member to apologize.
“An apology has been demanded and I believe that an apology is due, but not from me,” Lee Eng said. “An apology would be appropriate from Mr. Moos for spreading falsehoods about me, implying that I had agreed to vote in a particular way on any issue, and creating the narrative that I have painted a target on his back.”
Mayor Neysa Fligor called Lee Eng’s comments “a good first step” but expressed disappointment that Lee Eng’s reaction lacked empathy and the perspective that she, as a city leader, represents and should answer to all residents, not only her supporters.
“No one is questioning how you may have felt,” Fligor said. “But the disappointment again is your failure to address it and to respond to your constituents. … I am sure you do not want your legacy … to be someone who only listens to some residents.”
Fligor added: “As leaders, we are held to a higher standard, right or wrong, and sometimes we have to say and do things that sometimes we may not feel comfortable doing. But we do them because it’s in the best interests of the community.”
The April 27 meeting saw residents on both sides of the controversy expressing anger and exasperation over one another’s views. Lee Eng’s supporters continued to accuse Moos and his backers of bullying the council member, while Moos’ supporters insisted they were standing up for what’s right.
As in previous meetings, Moos’ proponents also called on the city council to take charge and force a resolution. Opponents urged Moos and speakers to “take it offline,” as one resident put it, and said the discussions were taking away from the council’s focus on conducting business. Each side called on the other to take the initiative and end the standoff.
“Enough is enough – this is disgusting,” said Frank Martin in support of Lee Eng.
“What should she apologize for, for being concerned for her family’s safety?” asked Freddie Wheeler.
Moos wasn’t happy with Lee Eng’s first public statement on the matter.
“Disgusting and absolutely appalling,” Moos said. “I’ve worked with children who can apologize more easily than you. … You sit them down and say, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter that you didn’t mean it that way, but this is what happened to the other child when you did this.’”
Ella Maluf called Lee Eng’s reaction “heartless, spineless and stubborn to the point of childlike comparison.”
Other council members also felt compelled to weigh in.
“The onus should be on Councilmember Lee Eng to help find a solution,” said Councilmember Sally Meadows, who was hoping Lee Eng would “extend an olive branch.”
“That’s not what we heard at all. … I’ve been so disappointed since I’ve joined this council,” Meadows said. “I hear that disappointment in the community as well. I just think we really need to get this fixed.”
Councilmember Anita Enander called the issue “a massive misunderstanding between two parties” and hoped the topic of mediation would be revisited. Moos and Lee Eng had agreed to mediation, only to have the mediator pull out last month.
The controversy has brought the topic of race front and center, particularly in light of the national dialogue over violence against Blacks and Asian Americans. Fligor, the first Black council member in Los Altos history, said she did not see the conflict as a racism issue. Lee Eng, the first female Asian councilwoman in the city, pointed to the increase in violence against Asians over the past year.
“This atmosphere certainly added to my concerns,” Lee Eng said.
“You have the power to help us heal,” Fligor told Lee Eng. “I hope you will take the next step. Help bring us to true resolution on this issue.”