John Stein will remain on the Livermore Planning Commission, the City Council decided in a 4-1 vote during a special meeting Monday evening.
The council's decision was contingent upon the conditions that Stein -- who is also a former councilmember -- attend a series of training webinars for planning commissioners across the state and that he meet with city human services staff. The council will also issue a formal written warning explaining that this will be the only opportunity he has to correct his actions.
Councilmember Bob Carling, who called for Stein's removal Monday, was the only dissenter.
"Everyone makes mistakes. Those with integrity want the chance to fix those mistakes," said Vice Mayor Trish Munro. "If you expect that for yourself, know that opportunity must be given to everyone."
Before the council began its deliberations, Stein offered another apology. "A number of people were hurt by my offensive comments during the last planning commission (meeting), to all of them, I say I am truly sorry and I will do my best to see that it never happens again," he said.
Stein -- who was appointed to the planning commission in 2019 and previously held a seat on the City Council from 1982-85 and again in 1989 to 2000 -- became the center of controversy after an April 20 planning commission meeting where he referred to a proposed affordable housing development 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 publicly apologized to the community and the City Council at its April 26 regular meeting, after facing backlash for his comments. The council could not make a decision at that time about whether to expel Stein as it was not on the agenda but the councilmembers voted to bring the discussion back in a special meeting where they would decide how to move forward.
Before making their decision Monday night, the council heard from more than a dozen community members during the public comment portion of the meeting. The remarks were reflective of divisive views, with several people calling for Stein to resign or be removed, others advocating for him to remain on the planning commission with no consequence and a few people who condemned his comments but didn't express support for his dismissal.
After the vote, Stein accepted the conditions put forward by the council, noting that he believes these steps will make him a "better planning commissioner."
"What I've seen happen tonight was compassion, really, and an understanding that people get a second chance -- and I'll just say that is consistent with my own life experience. However, there aren't more chances," Mayor Bob Woerner said in closing remarks before adjourning the meeting.
Stein's initial comments were in reference to an Eden Housing community planned for downtown Livermore at the southeast corner of the Railroad Avenue and L Street intersection. The project would provide 130 new affordable homes ranging from one to three bedrooms for low-income families and the local workforce.
The proposal consists of two four-story buildings with units that range in size from 500 to approximately 1,000 square feet, according to a staff report presented to the planning commission. Both buildings would occupy a combined footprint of about 38,000 square feet and would include various amenities like lobbies, recreation rooms and laundry facilities. About 31,000 square feet of land between and to the southeast of the two buildings would be allocated to Veterans Park, which would be open to the public.
Two private underground parking garages are also a part of the proposal, with additional parking reserved for residents of the complex in the nearby L Street public garage.
The new project has been at the center of a community debate with some residents objecting to the size and location of the estimated 2.5 gross acre development. Opponents argued at the April 20 planning commission meeting that a vacant parcel across Railroad Avenue would be a more suitable location for a project of this size and scope.
Challengers of the project have also expressed concern that the proposal has changed since the initial conceptual design that was approved by City Council in 2018 that featured four separate buildings and a larger park. City staff said that state affordable housing grant funding requirements called for changes in the mix of units, unit sizes and common areas compared to what was initially considered for the project.
Supporters of the plan argue that more affordable housing is needed in the city -- especially as housing insecurity has been exacerbated by the pandemic -- and shouldn't be delayed for fears that further postponement could result in the loss of state funding for the project.
Eden Housing currently has three properties in Livermore, including Owl's Landing Apartments on Herman Avenue, Stoney Creek Apartments on East Avenue and Arroyo Del Valle Commons on Mocho Street.
The planning commission ultimately approved the project in a 4-1 vote, with Stein being the lone dissenter. Despite his controversial comments in reference to the development itself, Stein said the reason for his vote was based solely on his view that the parking plan is inadequate.
The project is set to return to the City Council on May 24.
A complete recording of the May 3 special City Council meeting is available here.