Widgets Magazine


The egregious exceptionalism of Palo Alto

“Palo Alto is an elitist sh*t den of hate.” “Kind capitalism is a myth and our city is proof.” “I hate ‘social justice’ in Palo Alto. What a f*cking joke.” The messages — or rather, tweets — are uncompromising in their boldness; brash and confrontational, with a clear target for their ire and a disdain so apparent it almost pains to read them. Somewhat surprisingly, these were not the admonitions of an antifa member or Synergy listserv, but rather, a Christian priest from a local church.

The First Baptist Church of Palo Alto found itself in national headlines last week after Rev. Gregory Stevens, a 28 year old self-proclaimed “leftist libertarian” resigned from his position at the church. The resignation came on the heels of the aforementioned string of tweets and the predictably outraged backlash that followed. Palo Alto Vice Mayor Eric Filseth called the messages “vile,” and a group of local residents gathered and presented them in document form to the City Council, who at the time were voting on the church’s status as a “community center.”

Amidst the uproar that followed, Stevens resigned but made sure to burn a few more bridges on his way out, saying that “I believe Palo Alto is a ghetto of wealth, power and elitist liberalism by proxy, meaning that many community members claim to want to fight for social justice issues, but that desire doesn’t translate into action.”

Many will rightfully disagree with the politics Stevens promotes. His propositions are diametrically opposed to the ideals of many Americans and it would be difficult to envision such a message taking hold in a more red-blooded congregation. Superficially however, it would seem that Stevens found the perfect place to preach — a community whose politics supposedly aligned directly with his own drastic calls to action.

The incident was Palo Alto at its finest — a community so self-absorbed and totally lacking in genuine empathy that it failed to see the preposterous irony of its own actions. For one of the wealthiest communities in the country to attack a Christian priest for his calls at equality sounds more like 1930’s Berlin than one of the more self-proclaimed progressive areas in 2018 America. Nonetheless, this is the alternate reality that the citizens of this lovely town have created for themselves.

This same reality — propped up by $6 coffee and shielded from the outside world by rigid zoning laws — has been allowed to flourish in a community where everybody agrees on the liberal ideal but exceedingly few seek to actually act on it. Sure they may vote for Hillary in national elections and talk like good liberals at their weekly farmer’s markets, but realistically, the citizens of Palo Alto have turned a collective blind eye towards the blatant socio-economic problems that plague the community here and now.

One needn’t look far for examples. In the past year new ordinances made it harder for homeless people (many of whom were pushed to the streets by the very people now voting against them) to live in Palo Alto. The housing crisis continues to loom large and residents regularly refuse to allow for more building (wouldn’t wanna lower our home prices!) or large infrastructure projects that could free up resources for new developments (don’t want those dirty construction men in my backyard!). This exceptionalism — the idea that the rules should apply to everyone except for the broadly defined “us” — is an absurd and laughable juxtaposition given the economic realities of the area. However, when a community leader with no motives beyond his own notions of empathy decided to call out Palo Alto on its willful ignorance, he was unsurprisingly met with a cacophony of backlash that resulted in his own resignation and effective dismissal from the community itself.

The average home in Palo Alto costs over $3.3 million dollars. Its median income is more than $163,000 and anecdotally speaking, it’s home to more Teslas than any place reasonably should be. It would be one thing for its residents to own up to these truths and face the world as such. But by wrapping their wealth in a façade of ‘social good’ and limousine-liberalism, Palo Alto, and more broadly, Silicon Valley, have managed to have their proverbial cake and eat it too.

Stevens himself perhaps put it best when he said “If the same energies used to organize neighbors around minor parking issues, young girl’s choirs and ‘nasty tweets’ were honed to fight actual injustices, Palo Alto would be a very different city. Palo Alto needs more action, less lip service.” Few could deny the profound sardonicism of the whole situation. The citizens of this city live in a world where eating kale and buying $140,000 electric cars constitutes social good but providing homeless people with basic shelter does not.

This refusal to confront the true nature of things has cemented Palo Alto as America’s capital of hypocrisy. And as home prices continue to rise, gentrification eliminates more of the area’s demographic backbone and the ever-widening gap between rich and poor carries on with its unique brand of societal hemorrhaging, the members of this community may one day decide that it’s time for change. Until that day comes however, people like Rev. Stevens will find themselves in the smallest of minorities. Their calls will fall upon deaf ears.

Contact Harrison Hohman at hhohman ‘at’ stanford.edu.

About Harrrison Hohman

Harrison Hohman is a junior from Omaha, Nebraska majoring in Economics and Iberian-Latin American Cultures. He enjoys sports, politics, music, and other stereotypical college-age interests, and ties far too much of his self-worth to his middling abilities on the pool table . You can find him at Kappa Sig, the Huang basement or the rejected pile at Goldman.
  • Man with Axe

    I’m sure that there is plenty of hypocrisy in Palo Alto, just as there is at Stanford, where students pay $60,000 per year to study social justice theory instead of going out and helping poor people. But there is nothing hypocritical about wanting to limit the number of homeless people in an affluent community. People often work very hard to make a pleasant life for themselves and their families, and it makes no sense to put often drug-addicted or schizophrenic homeless people in the same neighborhood as families with children.

    Until recently my daughter lived in San Francisco across the street from Golden Gate Park. There were too many dangerous looking homeless people for her to allow her young children to play unsupervised in the park (and she didn’t feel safe there herself). In the morning when the kids would go out the front door for school there would often be a couple of homeless people sleeping in her doorway. This is intolerable.

    Suppose, dear author, that you were a developer who owned two neighborhoods: Neighborhood A is a relatively downtrodden place with mostly dilapidated buildings, and Neighborhood B is an affluent area with high-end single-family homes. You are forced by the authorities to locate a significant contingent of homeless people in one of your neighborhoods. Which one would you choose? You would choose A, of course, to limit the costs incurred by having the homeless move in. And here is the important point: Society should want you to choose A, because putting the homeless in B reduces society’s wealth and well-being much more severely. The harm of putting the homeless in B is not offset by any particular benefit to the homeless themselves. They are pretty much just as well off in A as they would be in B. So why not put them there?

  • Harry Hohman

    Im not really opposed to the idea of affluent communities existing and taking a hard stance against vagrancy in their neighborhoods, my point is more that it’s terribly two-faced of palo alto to act like a paragon of social good and then go about with these policies. Places like, say, Bethesda or Greenwhich (very affluent, generally lean conservative) make sense to me and I take little fault with them. My issue is more with Palo Alto than the policies themselves.

  • JamilMalik

    > Many will rightfully disagree with the politics Stevens promotes. His propositions are diametrically opposed to the ideals of many Americans.

    I have no idea what America you live in where many Americans would be diametrically opposed to hating on the richest city in the entire country.

    I mean, this is the same country that just elected the first ever conservative to run on a platform which was financially the opposite of fiscal conservatism (spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need, tariffs to protect special interest groups, welfare for steel workers, military parades, etc). It doesn’t get more “take from the rich and give to me” than that.

  • okie_flats

    So if I live in a low income area all the mega homeless shelters should be located there?

  • Man with Axe

    Not at all. Homeless shelters, even more so encampments, should be located away from ANY residential area where people live in the homes they pay for. A large percentage of the homeless are dangerous and their presence in an residential area diminishes the quality of life for the actual residents. Homeless people should not be allowed to interfere with businesses or block sidewalks. They should not be allowed to engage in aggressive panhandling.

    Society could be doing a lot more for the homeless than it does, but it is counterproductive to allow them to impose on everyone else, just because we don’t have the willingness to allocate the resources it would take to do the right thing, nor the courage.

    But if the homeless are going to be allowed to live among ordinary people, then the harm that they cause should be kept to a minimum by keeping the homeless away from families with children.

  • Goatee Mascara

    It’s not simply Palo Alto that’s a den of sh*t, its all of progressivism… it turns whatever it touches into sh*t: liberal arts education in America; cities: LA, SF, Chi, NY, etc.; the NFL; Hollywood; the Democratic Party; late night TV; the English language; American history; sex; free speech; mainstream religion; and on and on. And still they can’t figure out why Trump won. Gotta be Putin!

    Forget Palo Alto. Take the 30 mile drive up to SF (should only take 2-3 hours). Walk around a bit. Be sure to avoid the human excrement and used syringes in the street while you behold the glory of the homeless (errr, “urban camper;” errr, “unhoused citizen;” errr, “temporarily displaced resident”) hordes taking over the streets. Try not to get beaten or robbed as you inhale the ubiquitous scent of stale urine and pot permeating the city. Look upon the wonder that is a 300 square foot apartment built in 1917 without central heat or AC that rents for $4000/month without parking. On your way back to your car, which has already been broken into at least twice by illegal aliens, why not grab a couple of pieces of sushi for $25?

    Lets vote in Gavin for Governor so he can turn the rest of California into the progressive wet dream!

  • lomita_court

    I usually agree with Man with Axe, but I take your point here, Harry. The self-righteous left is beneath contempt.

  • lomita_court

    Goatee, please don’t leave the stanford daily comment section. We need you here! It gets dull — it’s usually just Man with Axe. We need some backbone around here