The state Legislature is poised to support a $20 million allocation to the Santa Clara County Valley Transportation Authority to support employee needs and facility repairs following the deadly May 26 mass shooting.
The last-minute budget addendum, proposed by state Sen. Dave Cortese, D-San Jose, outlines $10 million to "worker support and facility improvements" and another $10 million to "mental health services, worker training, and retraining."
Local leaders said the funding is essential for the VTA to jump-start its recovery process and meet the most pressing needs of employees and their families following such a traumatic event.
On the morning of May 26, Sam Cassidy, a VTA employee, shot and killed nine of his coworkers at the light-rail facility in downtown San Jose before turning the gun on himself.
Nearly 100 employees witnessed the shooting firsthand and the "long-term mental health impacts on workers are unknown and unfathomable," according to Cortese's office.
The funding would be used to address those impacts by providing grief counseling to employees who lost friends and co-workers, along with staff support and training as some employees 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."
Courtney said that one of the biggest pieces to bringing light-rail operations back is the mental health of the employees.
"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 funding would be essential to repair equipment and computers that were damaged during the shooting as well.
The tragic event occurred at Guadalupe Light Rail Yard which serves as the "nerve center" of all VTA operations, as it is the sole facility for VTA's light-rail vehicle storage and dispatch; light-rail vehicle maintenance; light-rail technical training; and many other services.
The facility also manages communication with field units and all service vehicles, both light-rail trains and VTA's approximately 400 active transit buses each day.
So, the mass shooting not only targeted the heart and souls of employees and families, but VTA operations overall.
Santa Clara County Supervisor and VTA board member Cindy Chavez said because of the horrific event, the VTA is even considering demolishing the building, especially because there are already safety concerns with the facility.
The light-rail yard has housed VTA operations since 1987, with about 379 employees working there prior to the shooting.
The $20 million in state funding is split into two bills — one that will go before the Assembly floor and the other through the state Senate before reaching the governor's desk.
"I am grateful to the Budget Chairs, Senate and Assembly Leadership, and the Governor for including this crucial budget allocation to help our community heal in the wake of such a horrible tragedy" said Assembly member Ash Kalra, D-San Jose. "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."