Livermore Planning Commissioner John Stein issued a public apology to the community during the City Council meeting Monday night for controversial comments he made about a proposed downtown affordable housing project during a city discussion one week earlier.
The Planning Commission on April 20 discussed Eden Housing's latest proposed community that would provide 130 new affordable homes ranging from one to three bedrooms for low-income families in downtown Livermore.
During that conversation, Stein -- who has been on the commission since 2019, after previously serving on the City Council -- referred to the project as a "ghetto."
"I really don't want to see the downtown become a ghetto of affordable housing, and I support inclusionary housing both on a macro and micro scale. I think it should be distributed throughout the city and if we see high-density housing downtown, it should be market rate with maybe 20% affordable rather than entire affordable," Stein said during the April 20 meeting.
He said he attributed his perspective to his past experience with failures in public housing in New York.
Stein's remarks sparked backlash in the community, prompting the council to revise its meeting agenda Monday to include an additional item specifically addressing the issue. The public conversation kicked off with remarks from the embattled commissioner.
"First of all, I'd like to say that I do feel my comments were intemperate or unfortunate. And I have personally apologized to the people who have contacted me, with a few exceptions, and I have written a letter of public apology in the 'Letters to the Editor' of The Independent and I'm currently composing a letter to send to the East Bay Times," Stein said.
"I would also like to apologize to the city, I guess," he continued. "The comments were my own and nowhere reflect any other planning commissioners, City Council or staff opinions or positions. I believe that Livermore should have inclusionary housing -- a broad range of housing types to serve all segments of the community. I also believe that as a planning commissioner it's my role to treat the public with respect, compassion and be willing to meet their expectations and again, I apologize if I have not done that."
Stein added that it was not his intent to disparage service workers and low-income residents, recalling his own past service industry jobs in college as well as various service jobs his children have previously held.
He said that to some extent, he believes his comments were "misinterpreted" and that while he supports "inclusionary housing," he thinks it should be distributed throughout the community as opposed to concentrated in one area. He said that his reasoning for opposing the Eden Housing project planned for downtown was based on its parking plan, which he feels is inadequate.
"Intent matters but impact matters more," Councilmember Brittni Kiick said, following Stein's comments Monday.
"What I heard in an apology was 'I'm sorry that you misunderstood my comments,' and I don't think that was really taking account for the actions that were said," Kiick said. "The impact of those words are very strong, as someone who used to be an elected official, as someone who is now serving at the pleasure of the council should know better that those words have meaning."
Vice Mayor Trish Munro and Councilmember Bob Carling also addressed other contentious comments Stein made during the April 20 meeting, including that Livermore has become the center of homelessness in the valley and that he didn't want Livermore to become the go-to city in the valley for affordable housing.
Carling argued Stein's comments on unhoused people in Livermore were erroneous.
"I've been to the encampment many times and one question I always ask is, 'Where are you from?' At least 75% of the time the answer is, 'I'm from Livermore," Carling said. "I think those who provide services to the homeless would agree, the majority of the homeless in Livermore are from Livermore. This is where they feel comfortable and this is their home."
In regards to Livermore becoming the "go-to" place in the Tri-Valley for affordable housing, Carling added that regional housing needs allocation (RHNA) standards are set by the state, and Livermore has not yet met its RHNA obligations, nor have its neighboring cities.
Although the council could not take any action during Monday night's meeting, Carling expressed that his opinion is that Stein should be taken off the Planning Commission.
After further discussion and deliberation, the council voted to bring the issue back on May 3 at which time they will decide whether there will be any disciplinary action from the council, including but not limited to removing Stein from the commission.
A complete recording of Monday night's City Council meeting is available here.