Deborah McQueen, Livermore
On April 26th, the City Council met to discuss Planning Commissioner John Stein’s use of the word “ghetto” during an April 20th meeting. Stein is a 43-year Livermore public servant, who used the word in his remarks to the Planning Commission during a discussion over the Eden Housing Plan. The word was used in a manner that is reflective of his age and personal history. Stein is an elderly, Jewish man, whose family and he have personally suffered the consequences from ‘segregating’ groups by ethnicity or socio-economic levels. For Stein, the word ‘ghetto’ has a very specific meaning, a ‘lived experience’ that those of us on the outside of that experience can’t fully comprehend. But the City Council and Mayor rejected Stein’s apology and moved toward removing him from his position as Planning Commissioner.
Words can only be fully understood when analyzed in both the historical and direct personal context of the person using them. Stein’s father and grandfather endured the Holocaust, and were the only remaining family members who didn’t perish. Stein grew up in a one-bedroom apartment. He used the word “ghetto” to describe a social condition wherein people of lower socio-economic income are housed together in segregated areas, as his father and grandfather experienced in Germany’s “Jew Alley”. For Stein, the word “ghetto” is an historical artifact from his past which describes the horrors of their lives. But this word is no longer allowed to be used to describe ‘segregation by class’ issues. Unfortunately, no one bothered to tell that to John Stein. The new politically correct words are ‘affordable housing’. Mark Palajac, board member of the Livermore Housing Authority, noted in a NextDoor post on April 29th, “Public Housing is fundamentally different from the type of affordable housing being proposed in the downtown plan. HUD owns Public Housing and is doing their best to get out of that business. The affordable housing will be owned by Eden Housing.” HUD housing has a new name under corporatized ownership, called ‘affordable housing’. But it’s still segregating homeless, very low-income and low-income residents together in boxy buildings of Jupiterian proportions.
Citizens straining to follow the chaotic virtual meeting, cringed while watching the council lavish judgment on Stein. Few people over the age of 50 have a strong grasp of SJW nomenclature and could easily make a similar error, but would we throw Grandpa under the bus for it?