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Caregivers, veterans, get assurance of agenda items

A man in a purple union cap speaks into a microphone.
Cesar Alvarado, SEIU union rep, shares data points with the Board of Supervisors.

The Board of Supervisors agreed to bring forward agenda items on two issues that have been championed by advocates for weeks: the abrupt relocation of the Veterans Service Office in Ukiah, and the question of higher pay for caregivers. And members of the public from Mendocino and Santa Cruz counties urged the supervisors to oppose AT&T’s application to be relieved of its legal obligation to be a carrier of last resort.

Cesar Alvarado, a union representative for SEIU 2015, the caregivers union, shared some data points with the board as caregivers in purple shirts held up signs demanding $20 an hour.

Alvarado said Mendocino County has the fifth-highest shortage of caregivers of any county in the state, with over 371,000 authorized caregiving hours going unfilled in 2022. “In other words, Mendocino County was unable to find caregivers for 371,000 hours,” he said. “I mean, I just did the math. It’s over $6 million. Money that didn’t end up in the pockets of Mendocino County residents. There’s many reasons for that. But number one is, nobody wants to work for poverty wages.”

A caregiver named Lisa shared her story, saying, “I would love to be able to afford food, rent, the works. That would be nice.”

Supervisor Ted Williams proposed an agenda item, “Not to talk about negotiation and how we pay it, but what’s our strategy. Obviously, we need to work with other counties. We need to work with the state.” Supervisor John Haschak said he would support that agenda item, and Chair Supervisor Maureen Mulheren noted heads nodding and said she was looking forward to the item.

Caregivers also spoke up on behalf of veterans who remain dissatisfied about the sudden move from their beloved service office on Observatory Avenue in Ukiah. Social Services, Behavioral Health and facilities staff decided to relocate the center from a small house to office space on Dora Street late last month, to make room for Air Quality Control, which lost its lease after rent went up.

Veterans received very little notice, just before Christmas, and complained about the new office being too tight for comfortable wheelchair access, windowless rooms and a lack of respect. Laura Quattrocchi said she is the wife of a Marine who served in Vietnam. She noted that since the Board meeting on January 9, when veterans showed up en masse to object, “We have still not seen a cost analysis for moving the VSO from 405 Observatory to 1120 South Dora, and the reason Air Quality was moved to Observatory, rather than another building.” She complained that Williams had been unable to provide a cost analysis, and requested an agenda item at the next meeting on February 27.

Supervisor Maureen Mulheren said she plans to bring forward an agenda item that includes the possibility of alternative locations, communications, and financial details.

Kennedy Cooper is a disabled veteran and college student who is working in the veterans service office as part of a work study program. He petitioned for a second VSR, or veterans service representative, saying the current rep’s calendar fills up with walk-in appointments every day. He told the Board that the previous day, a veteran in distress had walked in and been unable to receive services. “By the time they came in at 3pm, their issue couldn’t even be addressed, and they lost their check,” he said. “Now they have to wait six weeks. So that one check that they rely on to live. They're probably going to be homeless by the end of the week.” With an extra VSR, we wouldn’t be in the situation where everyone is scrambling to help that one person,” he explained. He then invited the supervisors to breakfast.

Other callers, including Nina Beatty, asked the board and the public to advocate for a completely different kind of service: landlines in rural California. Concern is growing that the California Public Utilities Commission will allow AT&T to step away from its legal obligation to provide copper wire to everyone who needs it, no matter how rural or poor. “Copper line landline is essential infrastructure,” she insisted, citing 911 services and spotty cell phone coverage in rural parts of the state.

There will be public comment hearings before a CPUC law judge in the Mendocino County Board of Supervisors chambers at 501 Low Gap Road in Ukiah on February 22 at 2pm and 6pm. Supervisors said the board is providing a letter, and working with state associations to oppose AT&T’s request.

Local News
Sarah Reith came to Mendocino County in 2008 and worked as a reporter and freelancer, joining KZYX as a community news reporter in 2017. She became the KZYX News Director in March, 2023.