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Regional Interests

State Lawmakers Propose $20 Million for VTA Worker Support and Facility Repair After Mass Shooting

The California Legislature is poised to allocate $20 million to the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) to support employee needs and facility repairs following a deadly mass shooting at one of its facilities last month.

The last-minute addendum to the state budget, spearheaded by state Sen. Dave Cortese and Assemblymember Ash Kalra, both Democrats from San Jose, is split into two bills — one that will go before both the Assembly and Senate — with half the funding earmarked for “worker support and facility improvements” and the other half for “mental health services, worker training, and retraining.”“The long-term mental health impacts of experiencing something like that is truly unknown to most of us, but something that professional assistants and resources can help deal with,” Cortese said.

Local leaders said the funding is essential for the VTA to jumpstart its recovery process, resume light rail service and meet the most pressing needs of employees and their families after such a traumatic event.

“These funds for worker mental health support, relocation and retraining, and facility upgrades, are imperative to addressing the workforce’s health and wellbeing, rebuilding regional transit, and preventing future workplace violence,” Kalra said in a statement.

Early on May 26, a VTA employee shot and killed nine of his co-workers at a light rail facility in San Jose, before turning the gun on himself. Most of the victims were light rail drivers or engineers. Nearly 100 employees witnessed the massacre.

“A hundred people witnessed it directly or indirectly, 100 people were impacted and had to evacuate the site, hide, run out on rooftops and then, really, be put in a position where they’re grieving,” Cortese said. “They’ve lost their team, and they aren’t really clear as to what safety measures have been put in place before they come back or what kind of assistance there is for them.”

The funding would be used in part to provide grief counseling to employees who lost friends and co-workers, and to support staff who may want to be retrained and relocated.

“We lost members of our family — essential union employees that provided vital public transit service everyday of this pandemic,” said John Courtney, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265. “This funding will go a long way as we work to build back our community.”

VTA light rail service was suspended indefinitely following the shooting.

Courtney said the mental health of VTA employees is critical to restarting the rail service.

“These families are very scared and afraid,” Courtney said. “We absolutely have to let them know that there was a process in place to take care of all the family members and all the grieving families.”

He said the state funding would also be essential to repair equipment and computers damaged during the shooting.

The shooting occurred at the Guadalupe Light Rail Yard, which Courtney described as the “nerve center” of all VTA operations — the transit agency’s main facility for light rail vehicle storage and dispatch, maintenance, technical training and other services.

Operators at the facility also manage daily communications between all of VTA’s service vehicles, including both light rail trains and its fleet of approximately 400 active transit buses.

Some local leaders and VTA officials have also hinted at the possibility of demolishing the facility, which has been in operation since 1987, and sparked safety concerns even before the incident. Nearly 380 employees regularly worked there prior to the shooting.

Cortese said he recently got a phone call from the son of one of the victims, asking if local and state officials have done anything yet in response to the tragedy.

“We heard politicians say we’re going to do whatever we can to help. You know, we’re going to do everything we can to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said. “We just want to make sure after a few weeks of quiet, you know, near silence about what the state’s response might be, that there actually is some help coming. And, you know, hopefully that’ll lift peoples spirits a little bit.”

This post includes reporting from KQED’s Arooba Kazmi and Julie Chang, and Bay City News.

Copyright 2021 KQED