Commentary: There Are Legitimate Problems at Pacifico, but Some of the Public Comments Were Inappropriate

Slide from Matthew Lange’s presentation

After listening to the neighbors both on January 10 at Montgomery, an evening that is better remembered for the tragedy unfolding at the same time downtown, and on Tuesday, there is an inescapable conclusion that not only is there something wrong at Pacifico, but there was a clear disconnect between what was contained in the staff report from Lisa Baker at Yolo Housing and Chief Darren Pytel and what was happening on the ground.

The council on Tuesday was clearly willing to address the problems happening on the site – we can discuss and perhaps debate how they should proceed, but clearly there is a real and ongoing nuisance that has not been adequately addressed.

At the same time, I was disturbed both at the January 10 meeting and on Tuesday by what can only be described as a strain of elitism and perhaps even some racism, as I will explain shortly.

There were legitimate complaints from people living in the area to be sure.  But there was not an adequate distinction at times between the population and the management (or lack thereof) of the facility.  Those should be treated as separate and distinct, and remedies should focus on better management of the population – not removing a vulnerable population from the area that has realistically no other place to go for valuable services.

John Slater noted that there have been problems with crime, but that is not his primary concern.

“My primary concern has been the response of Yolo County Housing to these problems.”  He said, “They deny that there are problems.”

He put that problem not on the population, but on Yolo County Housing, charged with managing the site.

Then there was Emily Darrin, a manager at an adjacent apartment complex who was able to specifically cite problems occurring on her site known to originate with residents of Pacifico – in contrast to the chief’s claims about the lack of calls for service.

Finally there was the comment from a woman working with NAMI, an organization that deals with mental health issues, and, after observing people at Pacifico, she said, “I felt that they weren’t in a living situation conducive to recovery.”

After listening to comments like these, it is impossible to downplay the problem.

And I think the council got that message loud and clear on Tuesday night.  They are prepared to deal with that problem.

I will say I was  disappointed that they didn’t do more to call out the chief and Ms. Baker a bit for whitewashing the data – because they clearly downplayed the extent of the problem, and that was obvious when people living around that area could cite off the top of their heads a higher volume of problems than outlined in the report.

At the same time, I would be remiss for not pointing out once again the underlying stream of elitism and perhaps racism that pervades some – with an emphasis on some – and certainly not all or even perhaps the majority of comments.

What is clear to me is that some neighbors are objecting not to the management of the population – which I think is a legitimate complaint in this case – but the presence of that population.

Not all neighbors.  Probably not even the majority.  Like I said, there are legitimate concerns here and those were acknowledged by council and will get addressed.

The thing that bothered me most was the comment by Matthew Lange – which is similar to what he said on January 10 at Montgomery.

“What I’m really concerned about is what’s happening in the city,” he said. “We are seeing a condensation of units where there is unwealth… There was never really any ghetto. There were never really any bad units.”

He complained that they are consolidating low income housing in one portion of town, “rather than spreading the burden through the entire city.”

What bothered me most was his last slide, with photos and the depiction of: “No Ghettos in Davis.”  Mr. Lange did not return an email.

It turns out I was not the only one offended by this language.

Mayor pro tem Gloria Partida called him out as well.

“I grew up in the Ghetto, she said.  “I’ve yet to see one in Davis.”  She said, “I take a little bit of offense at people stereotyping this particular population.”

The problem with the term ghetto is that its origins and explicit meaning have racial components.  For instance, the word came about to refer to “a quarter of a city in which Jews were formerly required to live.”

Furthermore, the current use is “a quarter of a city in which members of a minority group live especially because of social, legal, or economic pressure.”

The problem here is that both uses have a clear racial component.  But also the implication is that this was an unwanted condition.

Ibram Kendi in his award-winning book Stamped From the Beginning, which traces the history of racist ideas in America, writes, “Though social scientists like Clark (who published ‘Dark Ghetto’ in 1965) hoped the term (ghetto) would broadcast the ruthless segregation and poverty that urban Blacks faced, the word quickly assumed a racist life of its own.”

It came to mean neighborhoods where the people were considered “inferior, low class and unrefined.”

Perhaps Mr. Lange should have taken a lesson from the response to Quentin Tarantino’s use of the term at the Golden Globe awards in 2016.

Scott Timberg, the author of the Salon article, has no interest in such pedantry: “‘[G]hetto,’ no matter how Tarantino might have intended it, is a racially-charged term, and Tarantino has unleashed something online.”

In this case, Mr. Lange doesn’t even have the defense that Mr. Tarantino did.

I understand that Mr. Lange is probably using the term more generally to mean a concentration of low income people in a small area.  But the fact is that Davis is adding at-risk populations in other areas like Creekside on 5th Street and Paul’s Place in the core area.  Unlike his assertion, South Davis in that location is not being singled out.

Development patterns and lack of funding make it challenging to build and development affordable housing – particularly for vulnerable populations.  The city was fortunate to have Creekside already carved out and set aside from Mace Ranch, they will utilize Paul’s Place when the funding becomes available, they have added some housing at Sterling, and they will soon have some at WDAAC (West Davis Active Adult Community) set aside for low income seniors.

Not only is Pacifico not a ghetto – ghetto is not an appropriate term.  It does not merely depict an enclave of low income people, but rather an enclave of low income people of color who are separated and segregated.

The point that the majority of neighbors made on Tuesday was sufficient – Yolo County Housing did a poor job of managing their population and the council has an obligation to make sure that whatever housing is under their authority is managed appropriately so as not to produce undue impacts on the neighbors.

The use of the term ghetto here is not only offensive, but unnecessary.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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20 thoughts on “Commentary: There Are Legitimate Problems at Pacifico, but Some of the Public Comments Were Inappropriate”

  1. John Hobbs

    ” I was disturbed both at the January 10 meeting and on Tuesday by what can only be described as a strain of elitism and perhaps even some racism,”

    Is this the first time it’s come to your attention? Many neighboring communities would say, however unwarranted, it’s Davis’ dominate feature.

    1. Bill Marshall

      Yep!  We have the best schools!  Every child is far above average! We’re superior to Winters, Woodland, Dixon folk!  Etc., etc.

      You nailed it John!

      I find myself more embarrassed by that ‘stigma’ [based in an unfortunate reality] that John alludes to, than “toad tunnels”…

      1. John Hobbs

        If so many in Davis didn’t dismiss it as “jealousy” and continue going through life with their noses raised to 45° it would be neither relevant nor necessary.

      2. Bill Marshall

        Yet, David, you didn’t bring those up in your previous articles… a number of us immediately came to that conclusion, and said so…

        Equating low income to crime, bad behavior, decreased property values (who cares unless a sale is imminent?), “burden”, isn’t very liberal nor progressive… sounds more like MDGA… reactionary…

        Yet, will bet most of the folk who made those comments are ‘well-off’, and consider themselves liberal or ‘progressive’…

        Interestingly, I did not perceive them (comments) as ‘racist’… your spin, not mine… John’s characterization of ‘les nez retroussé’ (my term, consistent, I believe with the essence of John’s metaphor) is spot on for a disturbing # of folk in town… not a majority, but probably ~ 25%… the “elitism” label sticks and is probably the major problem.


        1. David Greenwald Post author

          If you recall Bill, over the years, one of the recurring themes is the notion of the “dark underbelly” – under the veneer of liberalism/ progressive politics is the darker side of elitism and even racism. Ghetto is a term that has a clear racial component in both its origins and common usage.

        2. Bill Marshall

          Au contraire, mon ami… “ghetto” was/is a term used to describe something ‘tacky’ ou ‘classe basse’. Teenagers used the term as to fashion, etc. in the 90’s… maybe still do… admit that you find certain words ‘loaded’ where others do not…

        3. Bill Marshall

          Perhaps in the eye of the beholder… English is “frangible”… “dike”, with variant spellings, can can mean a structure that prevents flooding/water intrusion, a pair of diagonal cutters (electrical tool), and other things… is it offensive for an electrician to ask his/her assistant to had him the “dikes”? The protective structure and the tool terms existed long before the other uses of the term.

          Seem to recall a local group of women motorcycle group who called their club, “dykes on bikes”… is that offensive?

  2. Alan Miller

    Welcome to the Davis Vanguard everyone . . . where you’re comments at the City Council meeting will be scraped and scrubbed for any hint of racism or elitism . . . and you will be called out as “maybe a racist or an elitist”.

    I understand that Mr. Lange is probably using the term more generally to mean a concentration of low income people in a small area.

    Ya THINK???!!!

    And to take it a step further . . . not so much “low income”, as those with deeper issues that are clearly affecting those around them.

  3. Alan Hirsch

    I think the use of the Term Ghetto was inappropriate,

    But I don’t think en entire column complete with headline and  graphic, shaming this Davis resident was appropriate.

    Davis, lets leave this sort of treatment for people with real power, notr a lone individual who was trying, inappropriately, to express his legitimate frustration…and a over-the-top manner. .

    Mayor Pro-Tem Gloria Partida did what was needed to “call him out”.

    Traditional wisdom, from the Bible, couples with word “Justice” with the word “Mercy.” So it is in a family.  So it is with a loving community.

    Let’s focus on to solutions to this  problem instead of focusing on self righteous shaming of an individual.



  4. Sharla Cheney

    Maybe ghetto is not the right word.  It is a low income housing project that was designed as a dorm.  Used in the way it is used it becomes a tenement.

    However, Slater’s Court was never referred to as a ghetto, but had much the same population when I was growing up in Davis and it also didn’t (and doesn’t) have the problems that Pacifico seems to have.

    It is my feeling that there are a few bad apples living there that is causing much of the problems.  With better management, the place could be a real asset.  Maybe sacrificing a few bedrooms on each floor to create a common area would make it less dorm-like and provide opportunity for healthier environment.  Create a co-op with everyone required to participate in some way in the running of the household.

  5. Tia Will

    Ghetto is a term that has a clear racial component in both its origins and common usage.”

    I would refer you all to the use of “inappropriate” words as expressed by Lenny Bruce before we get any more offended or self-righteous than we already are. I think that differing views on how the word “ghetto” was intended vs how it was received might be considered. I also spent a year of my life in an actual, identifiable ghetto but did not take the same offense that Gloria Partida did. I see room for many perspectives on the use of this word.


  6. Craig Ross

    As someone who grew up in a place one might call a “ghetto” let me say not only did I find its use offense but I also found its use preposterous.  A few shopping cards and a tree branch do not a ghetto make.

    1. Alan Miller

      Getting caught up on symbols and words is a tenant of modern progressive politics.  Attack on use of a word or symbol, avoiding the issue and shaming the user.  Example: flag/Corona.

      Implicating a person as a ‘maybe racist’ is vile behavior, not very far up the ladder of scumbaggery as racism itself.

      Nick Sandman’s family is suing the Washington Post for $250 million, and reportedly they have a list of others they are going after.  Perhaps the Vanguard should think twice before implicating a Davis citizen as ‘maybe a racist’.  You don’t say it directly, but you lay out all the dots, and imply those dots may connect.

      I have no problem with Gloria Partida saying the she found the use of the word offensive, as that is her saying what she felt, with no further implication stated.

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