In 1963, a young, aspiring journalist with barely a penny to her name raised funds from investors she met by chance, and founded the Livermore Independent.
Joan Seppala started the newspaper because, in those days, the only job offered to her as a female journalist was writing for the society page. But she didn’t want to celebrate the privileged – she wanted to report the news.
Since then, she and The Independent have been unafraid to support what is right for the Livermore community, even if our advertisers or powerful city politicians disagree.
One stark example: the 1972 SAVE Initiative, which Livermore voters and the Independent supported, but business interests opposed. Our stance caused local businesses to boycott the Independent. The paper, which once went to press three times a week with over 50 pages, fell to a six-page weekly. But we survived, thanks to community members who stepped up with loans to cover daily overdrafts at the bank. Our commitment to being truly independent became stronger than ever.
We went on to fight for the county and city Urban Growth Boundaries that preserve our precious open space, taking on huge developers and their political allies. We fought against discrimination, and drew attention to the homeless, farm workers, the disabled and emerging minority spokespersons.
The Bankhead Theater and Bothwell Arts Center are enjoyed by rich and poor, young and old. Seppala was indefatigable in her 10-year effort to raise money and build political support for them. Despite the opposition of some council members, she later worked with others to secure a bailout of their debt.
Today, the battle continues. Our powerful city politicians are angry with Seppala, because she – along with a 4 to 1 majority of Livermore residents – oppose the flawed Eden housing plan that the city council passed by a 5-0 vote.
So what did they do? They started a smear campaign to cover their tracks. The target? Joan Seppala. It shouldn’t be surprising. In fact, for politicians, it’s one of the oldest tricks in the book. That’s why, on social media, and even in the San Francisco Chronicle, you are being offered a misleading narrative.
It’s time to set the record straight.
Let’s talk first about affordable housing. The politicians claim that Save Livermore Downtown (SLD) – the organization that has been leading the fight for a better downtown plan – is opposed to affordable housing. That is the very opposite of its stance. The SLD plan, called a Downtown Alternative, actually proposes 100 more units of affordable housing than the Eden plan, but sited just across the street. SLD is concerned with the location of the Eden project, because the focal point of the downtown should be a welcoming park, not either market rate or affordable housing.
Then, they “reveal” what no one is trying to hide – that Joan Seppala, publisher of the Independent, is an active member of SLD. It’s certainly no secret that Seppala, who was honored in 2013 with the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Legacy Award from the YMCA, and in 2019, as the Lion’s Club Alameda County Citizen of the Year for her contributions to our community, as well as numerous other recognitions, has been active in many, many organizations over her decades of work in Livermore.
Then, they simply drum up their own “facts.” The Chronicle, in its May 25 article, wrote, “Save Livermore Downtown has spent upwards of $2 million to turn public opinion against the development.” As SLD can tell you, this is a made-up and grossly exaggerated figure. The reporter did not even attribute it to any source. But the most pernicious smear is that Seppala and SLD are somehow a “small group of wealthy elite.” For those who know Seppala and her long history in Livermore, nothing could be further from the truth.
What her husband Lynn Seppala has said publicly of her rings true: “What struck me most as I learned more about her was her devotion to The Independent ... regardless of the cost. She was leading a Spartan existence. I remember Joan’s one single faded blue jean skirt, an antiquated Karmann Ghia in constant need of repairs, and her tiny Sunol cabin, heated with a small electric unit, because buying propane was a luxury.”
Seppala might have led a Spartan existence when she first stepped foot into the city nearly 60 years ago, but she envisioned Livermore through an Athenian lens — a diverse place with open vistas, art, culture and great thinkers. This would be a democracy where all would be treated equally.
And it’s a vision we should be grateful that she is still fighting for today.