News Articles

Lake County News: Thompson introduces legislation to protect airline passengers

May 20, 2016

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson (CA-5) has introduced the Airline Consumer Protection Act (H.R. 5291), legislation to strengthen consumer protections and improve travel experience for airline passengers.

 “Everyone has a right to be treated decently and fairly while on a plane or in an airport, even when unforeseen complications arise,” said Thompson. “While we have made progress on issues like extended tarmac delays, passengers are still dealing with shrinking seats and growing fees. This legislation will build on the progress we’ve made to ensure that every passenger is treated fairly when they fly.”

Paul Hudson, President of FlyersRights, said “FlyersRights commends Congressman Mike Thompson for introducing significant aviation consumer protection legislation. While much more is needed, this legislation addresses the most pressing issue for airline passengers: the urgent need to stop airlines from shrinking passenger space without limit regardless of health, safety and comfort. By formally refusing to set minimum seat standards in February, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has given a green light to a new round of passenger space reductions. Unless Congress acts to stop overcrowding, which it last did in 1855 and 1819 for ships, airline passengers will soon be subject to uncomfortable and potentially dangerous conditions on US domestic routes.”

 The Airline Consumer Protection Act will:

 – Freeze reductions in seat size until the FAA establishes minimum size, padding, leg room, and aisle width to protect passenger safety, health, and comfort;
– Increase transparency in ancillary fees and seat assignment policies; and
– Improve awareness of, and access to, aviation consumer protection information and complaint processes.

Thompson previously introduced the Air Passenger Bill of Rights, legislation that required air carriers to provide adequate food, water, temperature controls, ventilation, and working toilets during excessive delays, and offer passengers the option to deplane after three or more hours on the ground.

 Provisions of this legislation were signed into law as a part of FAA legislation in 2012.

Press-Democrat Editorial: A common sense solution for Social Security

May 18, 2016

 Pull any three political leaders or pundits together, and you’re likely to get five different opinions on the state of Social Security. But there’s only thing on which most agree — a fix is critical.

With 10,000 baby boomers retiring each day, the math doesn’t work on the continued solvency of the program.

 This does not mean that those nearing retirement who are counting on Social Security need to panic. The system’s trust fund, with no changes will remain solvent for another 20 years. At that point it would not collapse but would begin paying out benefits equal to 70 cents on the dollar. Part of the problem is that Social Security premiums, benefits and other standards haven’t been adjusted since 1983.

Recently, Sonoma County’s two congressional representatives, Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael, were in town with Rep. John B. Larson, D-Conn., showing support for Larson’s common-sense solution to saving Social Security.

 The obvious solutions to the problem are to raise the cap on income for which payroll taxes are charged, bump up worker contributions or raise the retirement age. Larson’s bill, the Social Security 2100 Act, calls
for a combination of these and other ideas — all except raising the age.

At the moment, payroll taxes are not collected on wages of more than $117,000 a year. This legislation would apply the payroll tax to wages above $400,000. At the same time, it also would call for a phased-in increase in the contribution rate over 20 years. The net result would be that by 2037, workers and employers would pay an additional 1 percent. For the average worker, that amounts to about 50 cents more per week, according to Larson.

 In exchange, beneficiaries would see a 2 percent increase in benefits and would also stand to see a built-in cost-of-living adjustment tied to wage increases.

Meanwhile, more than 11 million Social Security beneficiaries
would receive a tax cut as the gross income threshold for taxation on benefits
would increase from $25,000 to $50,000 for single taxpayers and from $32,000 to
$100,000 for married taxpayers filing joint returns, beginning this year.

 The Larson bill also would open the gate for Social Security to
earn a higher rate of return by allowing some of its reserves to be invested in
equities, much like every other pension plan. Experts say this provision would
generate billions of dollars in reserves, which now total some $21 trillion.

 Although it’s an election year, and the odds of a fix for Social
Security getting Republican votes in this Congress is small, the push for such
a fix is growing. Blue state senators such as Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts
and Bernie Sanders of Vermont as well as red-state Sen. Mark Begich of Alaska
have thrown their support behind the idea.

 And what is the alternative? This is a far better solution than
the drastic and dismantling proposals of those on the far right who call for
slashing benefits or privatizing Social Security.

The system works. It just needs a common-sense fix. This is one
way to see it done. And while we have little hope that it will be approved
during an election year, it benefits us all to at least make sure it is a chief
topic of discussion during one.

California lawmakers battling to access VA records to help resolve complaints

May 13, 2016 - Maggie Ybarra

California lawmakers, distressed by the number of veterans experiencing difficulties accessing benefits, want to use their congressional allowance to pay to train members of their staffs to access veterans’ records.

More veterans live in California than in any other state. U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs statistics show
that 1.85 million veterans live in California. And most of them – roughly 1.38 million of them – are wartime veterans.

Those veterans call or show up at congressionl district offices whenever they feel the department has failed
them. That’s why lawmakers say they want their staffs to have read-only access to records to determine if there are errors or missing information preventing veterans from receiving housing and health benefits.

Cosponsoring the legislation that would make that access possible are Rep. Jim Costa, D-Fresno, Rep. Mark De Saulnier, D-Concord, Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Richvale, Edward Royce, R-Fullerton, and Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena.

“We’ve had veterans who were misclassified; veterans who had their request for classification or disability put on hold, get lost or buried in the bureaucracy,” Thompson said.

He cited the case of a homeless veteran who had been unable to gain benefits that would help him find a place to live and medical care. “He was misclassified, so he couldn’t get health care and he couldn’t get any help getting into housing and, as a result, we got him into [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] healthcare and into an apartment where he’s living,” Thompson said.

Florida Rep. Ted Yoho, a Republican, crafted the legislation, known as the WINGMAN Act, following a failed effort  to convince Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald that lawmakers needed additional
oversight of veterans’ records.

The legislation would allow staff to have read-only access to the status of a pending claim, medical records, comp-and-pen records, rating decisions of a case and supplementary statement of the case as well as notices of disagreement, he said.

Yoho began publicly prodding McDonald to allow lawmakers to have read-only access to the records of their veteran constituents in April 2015. McDonald initially seemed to warm to the idea, but by early 2016 it was clear that his support was wavering and Congress woulld have to take legislative action, Yoho said.

“When I first met Secretary McDonald, he said: ‘Well, that’s kind of a no brainer,’ ” Yoho said. “He goes: 'I don’t know why we wouldn’t do that.’ And then we were starting to get a little bit of blowback and we were finding out that it was privacy issues, you know, looking over the shoulder of the service workers in the regional service centers. And we’re not looking over anybody’s shoulder other than, ‘I want to find out the status of Veteran A’s claim.’ ”

Only a small number of the
California congressional delegation initially expressed interest in Yoho’s
early 2015 crusade. They cosigned two letters, dated April 20, 2015, and Aug.
11, 2015. McDonald encouraged the collaborative effort, but said in his
response letters that the issue was complicated because it crossed “many areas
of concern,” including privacy, legal, regulatory and system limitations.

By early 2016, lawmakers from
several states decided to support Yoho’s efforts. Costa, DeSaulnier, LaMalfa,
Thompson signed a February letter to McDonald. Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Vista, and
Rep. Alan Lowenthal, D-Long Beach, also signed the letter.

About 27,000 veterans reside in
Costa’s district, according to staff data. DeSaulnier has 5,115 veterans in his
district; LaMalfa, about 59,000; and Thompson, roughly 45,000, according to
data from their offices. Lowenthal has about 8,375 veterans in his district,
and Issa has more than 46,800 veteran constituents, the data indicate.

Collectively, the California
legislators continued to press McDonald on why the department was preventing
them from playing a more significant role in helping their constituents.

“In our combined experience, by the
time a constituent advocate begins working on a veteran’s case, they are the
only staff working the issue because all other avenues have been exhausted,”
the letter said. “Given that our staffs are typically contacted in many cases
as a last resort – after having first sought help from the [U.S. Department of
Veterans Affairs] or a service officer – to help veterans navigate significant
issues they are facing at the [department], we request further information
clarifying why congressional offices continue to be denied access.”

The Department of Veterans Affairs
does not have the legal authority to provide congressional staff members with
unrestricted access to its electronic benefits processing system, Veterans
Affairs Benefits Chief Allison Hickey said in a letter to Congress dated Oct.
6, 2015. Also, the records plan would likely cause “substantial administrative
burdens” on the department and “instances in which the representatives would
not be notified of developments and deadlines in the Veterans’ cases,” she
said.

Hickey resigned 10 days later, but a
VA spokesman used essentially her same words to respond to a recent request for
comment.

Lawmakers say that veterans in their
late 60s, 70s, or 80s often have health and disability issues that need to be
addressed quickly and cannot have those needs postponed due to a cumbersome
government system. Unfortunately, some veterans face monthlong waits for
answers that sometimes come too late, Costa said.

“Some of these poor individuals have
passed away by the time we’re able to address their issue in the way that we
would have liked to in the beginning,” he said.

If the WINGMAN Act gains enough
congressional support and the approval of President Barack Obama, then each
lawmaker could have a certified staff member with read-only access to veterans’
records sometime in 2017, according to Yoho spokesman Brian Kaveney. It would
cost a few thousand dollars to train a staffer to work with those records, Yoho
said. Lawmakers who choose to spend their congressional allowances on that
training would be reimbursed for those funds, according to the Members’
Handbook, which spells out how members of Congress can spend their office
funds.

“We’ve had veterans who were
misclassified; veterans who had their request for classification or disability
put on hold, get lost or buried in the bureaucracy,” Thompson said.

He cited the case of a homeless
veteran who had been unable to gain benefits that would help him find a place
to live and medical care. “He was misclassified, so he couldn’t get health care
and he couldn’t get any help getting into housing and, as a result, we got him
into [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] healthcare and into an apartment
where he’s living,” Thompson said.

Florida Rep. Ted Yoho, a Republican,
crafted the legislation, known as the WINGMAN Act, following a failed effort to
convince Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald that lawmakers needed
additional oversight of veterans’ records.

The legislation would allow staff to
have read-only access to the status of a pending claim, medical records, comp-and-pen
records, rating decisions of a case and supplementary statement of the case as
well as notices of disagreement, he said.

Yoho began publicly prodding
McDonald to allow lawmakers to have read-only access to the records of their
veteran constituents in April 2015. McDonald initially seemed to warm to the
idea, but by early 2016 it was clear that his support was wavering and Congress
would have to take legislative action, Yoho said.

“We’ve had veterans who
were misclassified; veterans who had their request for classification or
disability put on hold, get lost or buried in the bureaucracy,” Thompson said.

He cited the case of a
homeless veteran who had been unable to gain benefits that would help him find
a place to live and medical care. “He was misclassified, so he couldn’t get
health care and he couldn’t get any help getting into housing and, as a result,
we got him into [U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs] healthcare and into an
apartment where he’s living,” Thompson said.

Florida Rep. Ted Yoho, a
Republican, crafted the legislation, known as the WINGMAN Act, following a
failed effort to convince Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert McDonald that
lawmakers needed additional oversight of veterans’ records.

The legislation would
allow staff to have read-only access to the status of a pending claim, medical
records, comp-and-pen records, rating decisions of a case and supplementary
statement of the case as well as notices of disagreement, he said.

Yoho began publicly
prodding McDonald to allow lawmakers to have read-only access to the records of
their veteran constituents in April 2015. McDonald initially seemed to warm to
the idea, but by early 2016 it was clear that his support was wavering and
Congress would have to take legislative action, Yoho said.

Martinez: Forum focuses on preventing, treating concussions

Aug 19, 2014 - By Hilary Costa
Alhambra High School junior Victor Romiti knows firsthand the devastating effects of a concussion. 
 
The two-sport athlete suffered a severe one in December during wrestling practice, and it wasn't until February that doctors finally cleared him of symptoms, which included headaches, constant drowsiness and inability to concentrate. 
 
"It was so difficult for him because he loves sports so much," said his grandmother, Barbara Romiti. 
 
On Monday night, the Romitis were in the audience as U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Napa, convened a panel discussion at the high school to educate young athletes and their parents on the dangers of concussions, how to recognize them and what can be done to avoid them. 
 
The experts began by dispelling some common beliefs that can prevent a concussion from being recognized. For starters, football players are not the only athletes at risk; lacrosse and soccer players are also high on the list, but any sport can be risky. 
 
Also, concussions do not usually cause sufferers to lose consciousness, and they are not always caused by a blow to the head. Dr. Jose Yasul, director of musculoskeletal and sports medicine education at Contra Costa Regional Medical Center, said whiplash injuries or even blows to the body whose force travels to the head can also cause significant concussions.
 
The symptoms usually set on rapidly and can include headache, confusion, dizziness, nausea or irritability. The best way to recover from a concussion is to rest the brain and the body -- typically lying in a dark, quiet room -- and most resolve within 10 days. 
 
But the long-term effects may not be seen for years or decades, said Elizabeth Edgerly, chief regional program officer with the Alzheimer's Association. She said research has confirmed that repeated brain injury can cause dementia, including the type called chronic traumatic encephalopathy -- the degenerative illness that afflicted the late National Football League star Junior Seau. 
 
"They've seen their heroes suffer these injuries," said Dr. Yasul, who noted that tragic cases like Seau's and the NFL's recent settlement with former players have dramatically raised concussion awareness in recent years. 
 
Also on the panel was former NFL wide receiver Onome Ojo, who, Super Bowl ring glinting under the auditorium's lights, drove home the point that even at the highest levels, being a pro athlete is a temporary job. 
 
Ojo, now an officer with the Richmond Police Department, echoes the advice he received from his mentor, Jerry Rice, when he implores young athletes to make "career decisions" -- with "career" referring to life after sports.
 
"Love the game, play the game. But when you get hurt, pay attention to what your body is telling you," said Ojo, a member of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' Super Bowl-winning team in 2002 before injuries ended his NFL career. 
 
Yasul called it "respecting the symptoms," even the subtle ones like a mild headache or mood change following a head injury. 
 
One step that schools, including Alhambra, are now taking to lower the risks is performing baseline cognitive evaluations for their athletes, so that if an injury does occur, it will be easier to recognize its effects. 
 
Head football coach Alan Hern said all of the school's coaches have also undergone concussion training to learn how to spot the symptoms and that players will get in trouble for making plays they know are unsafe, like tackling with their head down.
 
Anecdotally, Hern said he has seen injuries go down as the emphasis on endurance and overall fitness grows and as schools put more limits on the length and intensity of their sports practices. 
 
The overall goal, everyone agreed, is for students to get the benefits of fitness and camaraderie from playing on a team but still walk away from the experience healthy. 
 
"There's a lot of life to live," Ojo said.

Nancy Pelosi touts economic agenda for working women

Aug 14, 2014 -By Matt Brown
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi visited Sonoma State University on Thursday to tout a political platform focused on improving pay and benefits for women, changes Pelosi said were needed to ensure American economic prosperity in the decades to come.
 
During a speech at a forum co-hosted by Rep. Mike Thompson, Pelosi, a San Francisco-based Democrat and former House speaker, laid out a package of Democratic proposals to overhaul paid sick and family medical leave, increase access to affordable child care and push equal pay for women. The average pay for women is currently 77 cents for every dollar earned by a man, Pelosi noted.
 
“The best thing that we can do for our economy is unleash the power of women,” Pelosi said in her address before an audience of about 500, three-fourths of whom were women, including local business and political leaders. “We have the legislation to do it. We need a drumbeat across the country that says ‘When women succeed, America succeeds.’”
 
Democrats are wielding the legislative package in their attempt to maintain their majority in the Senate and ultimately win back control of the House of Representatives.
 
The message, though welcomed Thursday in liberal-leaning Sonoma County, has little chance of making headway in the Republican-controlled House this fall, analysts said. Still, it could help rally the Democratic base to the polls for the Nov. 4 mid-term election.
 
“In a political context, the minority in the House has next to no influence on what gets enacted,” said David McCuan, a Sonoma State political science professor. “Pushes like this give Democrats a reason to come out and vote. It also sends a message to the president not to make too many compromises.”
 
Pelosi acknowledged that the agenda would not be able to pass in the House without a Democratic majority. Analysts have given Democrats less than a 5 percent chance of picking up the 17 net seats needed to take back the House.
 
“Popular support is everything,” Pelosi said in a brief interview after the forum, held at the Student Center Ballroom. “If people are saying we want affordable child care, if we want to raise the minimum wage, we can do it.”
 
Sharing the stage with Pelosi, female leaders in government and business from across the North Bay shared their experiences rising to the top in sectors still dominated by men.
 
Socorro Shiels, superintendent of the 16,000-student Santa Rosa City Schools district, said she makes less than many of her male counterparts in education and less than other top public administrators, including the Santa Rosa police chief and city manager, who oversee fewer employees, she noted. She said women need to help girls succeed.
 
“One of the things that allowed me to take bold steps was mentorship and camaraderie of other women,” she said. “We need to mentor young women so that they can be successful as well.”
 
Jeri Gill, CEO of Sustainable Napa County, a nonprofit organization, said she is constantly changing the way she defines success. One day it may be completing a complicated sustainable energy proposal and the next day it may be finding a bra that fits, she said to laughter from the audience.
 
“I celebrate the small victories,” she said.
 
Pelosi, who in 2007 became the first female Speaker of the House, addressed questions on a wide range of topics, including women’s reproductive rights, campaign finance overhaul and U.S. support for Israel.
 
Asked if she would support Hillary Clinton for president in 2016, she said: “I hope she’s ready. That would be exciting.”
She mentioned a bill put forth by Democrats meant to counter the so-called Hobby Lobby decision, a recent Supreme Court ruling that said closely held or family owned corporations could object, on the grounds of religious freedom, to covering birth control in employee medical plans.
 
“We have a bill. It’s known as the ‘Not My Boss’s Business Act,’” she said. “It is a central part of our fuller agenda.”
 
Asked about the U.S.’s role in global women’s issues, including female genital mutilation, forced marriage and violence against women, Pelosi said American female leaders can be an example for oppressed women in other parts of the world.
 
“This really burns me up. People think it’s OK to engage in violence against women, to tell women when and how they can have children,” she said. “We’re all in this together. Women here have an interest in empowering women everywhere.”
 
Many in the audience said they were inspired by Pelosi’s message, but acknowledged that Sonoma County, unlike other parts of the country, is fertile ground for such an agenda.
 
“I’m a huge fan of Nancy Pelosi. It was wonderful to hear her speak,” said Tessa Kraft, a loan accountant at American Ag Credit. “It’s a little like preaching to the choir in Sonoma County.”
 
Erin Carlstrom, a Santa Rosa City Council member and former candidate for state Assembly, said it is encouraging to have such discussions about women’s issues, but cautioned that more needs to be done to achieve gender equality, including electing more women to public office.
 
“I’m just thrilled that these issues have risen to the congressional level,” she said. “It’s an acknowledgment that sexism is alive and well in America. If we had more women in office, we wouldn’t need to have these discussions.”

Vallejo's Farmers Markets helping transform downtown

Aug 14, 2014 - By Rachel Raskin-Zrihen
Vallejo's Farmers Market is meeting or exceeding organizers' expectations, both on Saturday and the new Wednesday evening edition, and may be on the way to becoming a successful regional gem, a market spokesman said.
 
Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association Director John Silveira said an estimated 4,200 shoppers visited Vallejo's Farmers Market on Saturday and some 400 came to the smaller, inaugural Wednesday evening version last week.
 
"Those are good numbers," said Silveira, who oversees 62 markets. "We've been pulling a good crowd; it's been steadily in the three-thousands – but it seems to be picking up. Maybe the (great) weather is part of it. Maybe everyone is energized and coming alive with the sunshine."
 
And the new Wednesday evening offering also seems to be a smash, he said.
 
"I really fell in love with it. It felt good," he said. "There was a ton of positive energy, and just over 400 people shopping on opening day, and that was just about what my expectations were. The site plan was a real A-plus. Everyone's upbeat; great music, great vendors." 
 
During the event Saturday, Silveira presented Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, with a basket of fresh Farmers Market goodies in appreciation for this support of the Vallejo Farmers Market in particular and local and state agriculture in general, Silveira said.
 
"He comes out quite a bit, and we wanted to take the opportunity as a shout out to him," he said. "He's been helpful on the (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) SNAP (foodstamps) program and with specialty crops."
 
Reached buy staff members during his vacation, Thompson's office staff said he sees the recognizes the value of the weekly events.
 
"The Vallejo Farmers Market is not only a place for the community to buy fresh produce, but it also showcases Vallejo's Historic Downtown," he said in an email. "The quality produce, excellent food and dedicated vendors, make it one of the best farmers markets in the area."
 
Silveira has recently taken a hands-on role at the Vallejo markets, as they seem to have taken off.
 
"It took some time for all the pieces to fall into place," to build a successful market, but that seems to be happening now, he said. This is not only good for the local economy and the food growers and producers, it offers healthy options in an area bereft for years of a supermarket, Silveira said.
 
"We have the market in (what's been officially classified as) a food desert," he said. "So, it provides fresh produce (to people who might have trouble finding it conveniently, otherwise)."
 
A poll taken during the last Vallejo Farmers Market events found the majority of shoppers were from Vallejo, though people were also here from Napa, Benicia and American Canyon, Silveira said.
 
"This is standard for a market," he said. "Our goal is to increase the customers coming to the market from the surrounding communities. Vallejo is positioned to be a great regional market – with the Solano County agriculture tradition and the beautiful Vallejo waterfront."
 
Market organizers also hope the Wednesday market will start to attract Vallejo Ferry riders, he said. 
 
"We did have a little turnout and we're increasing our signage by the waterfront," in hopes of attracting more, he said.
 
That investment is in addition to a substantial one already made to promote Vallejo's Farmers Market, downtown business owner Ken Ingersoll said.
 
"The crowd count is up and growing, there's increased interest of vendors wanting to enter the market and the (26-year-old) Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association has done two commercials and the third is scheduled for this fall," he said. "Also, there are new vendors and the hours (of the Saturday market) have been extended until 2 p.m."
 
The events' potential is illustrated by the fact that Silveira is "providing hands on market-day management," Ingersoll said. 
 
"There has been a lot of changes in the last 10 months," he said. "Nothing draws more people downtown than the Farmers Market, to the point that the director of the association had to step in and manage it. The contract with the market says they're putting $35,000 into marketing the market and downtown and we're already seeing a 10-fold return on that investment."
 
Those at City Hall and the John F. Kennedy Library, near where the Wednesday evening Farmers Market is held at Unity Plaza, both seem to be excited about the new trial event, Silveira said. 
 
"There are seven weeks left in the pilot program," he said, adding that in a few weeks organizers will decide if the event is popular enough to be extended. 
 
"I would say the first Wednesday met my expectations, but as fall and winter arrive, there are fewer colorful summer fruits and more leafy greens and citrus, and there's daylight savings time to consider," he said. "But, the community seems to be behind our efforts in terms of local agriculture and are willing to support the California farmers."

Hundreds of Vallejo Vietnam veterans honored

Aug 9, 2014 - By John Glidden
Over 500 Vallejo Vietnam veterans honored
 
A few had trouble standing during the singing of the national anthem; age forcing some to hold onto a loved one or a cane. They stood, saluting the flag, like so many times before.
 
Yet, it was a different atmosphere for the Vallejo Vietnam War veterans Saturday who filed into the Veterans Memorial Building on Admiral Callaghan Lane.
Many had waited decades for this day and they were not to be denied recognition one minute longer.
 
Various local, state and federal elected officials packed the main stage to honor 557 Vallejo residents who served in the Vietnam War.
 
The celebration coincides with the 50th anniversary of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution signed into law by then-President Lyndon B. Johnson.
 
The resolution is generally seen as the official start to the Vietnam War.
 
"We are the only city, I know of, doing this level of honoring for Vietnam vets," said Nestor Aliga, organizer of the ceremony. "Each of the vets received 11 items, including five certificates with their (respective) names on it. Nothing generic, they can hang these items on their walls."
 
Aliga said that he had to turn down 300 Vietnam vets who lived outside of Vallejo.
 
He said that 200 Vallejo Vietnam vets declined to show up because the war and the subsequent treatment of soldiers returning home from Vietnam is still a "bad memory."
 
For Manuel Concepcion, Vietnam is still difficult to talk about.
 
Concepcion said that he served from 1965-66 and then again from late 1968 to 1970, both times in the Marine Corps.
"We lost some people (in Vietnam)," Concepcion said. "But I'm living with it."
 
Concepcion said that he had an urge to serve in the armed services again after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.
 
"I would do it all over again," he said.
 
Wilfred Alexander, who served in the Navy aboard the USS Valley Forge and USS Midway, echoed Concepcion's sentiments by saying he would serve again, if he could.
 
"I did the best I could do," Alexander said. 
 
He said that his return home was a poor one.
 
"As I exited Travis (Air Force Base), people called me names, like 'baby killer,'" he said.
 
Alexander said that he served aboard the Valley Forge in 1969, which was being used as a troop transport. He said the ship was also used to bring back the dead and wounded soldiers.
 
"When I was aboard the Valley Forge, I was exposed to Agent Orange," Alexander said. "I'm dealing with prostate cancer now."
 
For Erin Hannigan, Solano County Supervisor representing District 1, Vietnam is a personal reminder of family loss.
 
"My uncle was missing in action," she said. "We found out that his bone fragments were being sold over there. We found out it was him through DNA testing."
 
Each of the 557 names were read off. Many of the veterans were not present but those who were received a nice round of applause as they stood with the calling of their respective names.
 
"Recognition is long overdue," said Mike Thompson, who represents California's Fifth Congressional District, during his keynote address. "No veteran deserves to wait for it."

Congressman fulfills promise, visits disabled workers in Mare Island

Aug 7, 2014
Corporation gives opportunities to underserved population
 
By Irma Widjojo - Donte McKinley was the reason why a U.S. congressman came to visit the Mare Island U.S. Army Reserve on Thursday morning.
 
"When I saw him in D.C., I told him he should come to Mare Island and see the Army Reserve," McKinley said.
 
He and three other Solano Diversified Services clients work as janitors at the building.
 
Keeping his promise from last year, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, went to visit McKinley's work place and chatted with him and his coworkers.
 
McKinley, 34, of Vallejo, and other Solano Diversified Services clients are disabled and receive training and employment support through the Vallejo-based nonprofit corporation. Each year, a client, who works at a federal building like McKinley, gets to go to Washington, D.C., with the organization's president to meet with the area's representative.
 
The organization serves about 150 people in the county, and provide support and training for them to go into the workforce within the county and beyond. The program is federally funded.
 
McKinley has gotten a chance to meet and chat with Thompson twice — last year and in June. Thompson had promised him that he would visit McKinley at work last year, but had forgotten, and was promptly reminded by McKinley the next time they met again in June.
 
"I asked him again if he's coming out to Mare Island," he said. And Thompson made good on the promise.
 
"I'm happy he's here," McKinley said. "I see him on the (Internet) sometimes, and he's here in Vallejo."
 
Another worker, Tiffany Busante, said she's surprised to see Thompson at her workplace.
 
"That's pretty awesome," Busante said.
 
Thompson was introduced to the other workers as they were going about their daily routine at work.
 
"This is a great program," he said. "Anytime you can give people an opportunity to work, it's great. Especially when they may not have the opportunity otherwise."
 
He called such programs as a win-win for everyone involved.
 
"We're saving money and lessen the pressure on society by giving jobs to people who many not have a chance to work," Thompson said. "It also gives them an opportunity to be productive. ... You can tell they are really proud to be working."
 
McKinley has been working under Solano Diversified Services for a decade and earns enough money to support himself and helps his mother, he said.
 
"Before SDS it was very hard for me to get a job," he said. "I have the disability and had no training."
 
To be eligible for the program, the workers need to document their disability and show that they can't get a job in a competitive workforce.
 
Solano Diversified Services was founded in 1981 by Louis Chiofalo a Vallejo resident, and president of the organization.
 
"I saw there was a big need in the community," Chiofalo said. "This is a group of the workforce that is underserved."
 
The organization has thrived over the years, providing contractors, as well as employees of private companies.
For more information, visit www.sds-inc.org.

Vallejo's Vietnam vets honored

Aug 7, 2014 - By Richard Freedman
50 years since Tonkin Gulf Resolution
Some will come because they were asked. Some will come because they figure it's about time. 
 
Some can't make it. And others won't come because the memories are far too painful.
 
Still, 557 local Vietnam veterans will be saluted at the Vallejo Veterans Memorial Building on Saturday — the 50th anniversary of the Tonkin Gulf Resolution of the conflict that took the lives of more than 58,000 American troops.
 
Vallejo City Councilmember Robert McConnell, one of the 1 p.m. event speakers and a Vietnam veteran, said the tribute "is long overdue."
 
"It's so great that we have over 500 local Vietnam veterans who are willing to come forward and be recognized," McConnell said. 
 
Event coordinator Nestor Aliga, who served in the Marine Corps and Army and grew up in Vallejo in the 1960s, said it's his way of "giving back to our beloved America as I immigrated to Vallejo in 1967."
 
It's all worth it, Aliga said. 
 
"I've gotten a lot of voicemails, a lot of emails, from veterans thanking me," Aliga said. "But it's not about me. I didn't go to Vietnam. I was at Camp Pendleton. This is for the veterans who went to war." 
 
The honored veterans or their families will receive a packet that includes: A presidential proclamation and certificates from U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, the State of California, County of Solano, and City of Vallejo.
 
It's all a good thing, said Solano County Supervisor and former Vallejo Councilmember Erin Hannigan. Her father, former state Sen. Tom Hannigan, is a Vietnam veteran.
 
Also, said Hannigan, her great uncle, Jack Mape, was a Navy fighter pilot MIA in Vietnam for 30 years.
 
"The Vietnam War was impactful for my family and it changed the future of seven of my cousins," she said. "When I was a young during the war, I remember watching the news coverage of many events associated with it."
 
Aliga said it's time local vets are honored, not despised as many were upon their return home. Many, he said, were spat on and many were told not to put their service on job applications.
 
"I'm always dismayed that American soldiers who answered the call of duty to serve in this ware were not honored upon their return for bravery and heroism," Hannigan said. "It's time we fixed that."
 
It's important, said Aliga, that each vet attending the ceremony receive a certificate with his name and not just a generic "Thanks for your service" inscription.
 
"I've been told by many that it's the first time" they are being individually acknowledged, Aliga said. 
 
Aliga gathered the Vallejo vets' names from the eight veterans organizations in town.
 
"I said, 'Make sure they're Vallejoans' and they got me 557 names," he said.
 
Aliga believes it will be one of the most extensive ceremonies of the 50th anniversary in the country, confirming that two Pentagon representatives are attending to perhaps replicate the format in other cities.
 
Aliga, 58, said he's received hundreds of calls and emails from veterans in other Solano County communities asking to be included.
 
"The organizations in those cities should honor their own veterans," Aliga said. 
 
Aliga began a tribute to veterans in 2011, honoring World War II vets. In 2012, he got behind honoring Solano County Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. In 2013, 424 local Korean war veterans were saluted. 
 
Next year is the 25th anniversary of Desert Storm, so it looks as though Aliga and others will be honoring Gulf War veterans. Some believed it should wait until the 30th anniversary.
 
"But I thought it should be the 25th, while we're healthy enough," Aliga said. "In five years, we'll be older and maybe not as healthy." 
 
Again, he reiterated, it's "to honor all the veterans who paved the way for me. Where else in the world can an immigrant become a colonel?" 

Napa officials tour fish-friendly farming sites

Aug 5, 2014 - By Peter Jensen
Vineyard owners along the Napa River showed off the environmental benefits Monday of working cooperatively with government agencies to improve the lives of fish and other wildlife.
 
For the last decade, landowners in Napa County have enrolled in a fish-friendly farming program that allows them to produce a plan of environmentally friendly farming practices specific to their property, and have regulatory agencies sign off.
 
To grapegrower Ted Hall, the program was a means of ensuring compliance with the dozen or so regulatory agencies he deals with while also improving vital habitat along the Napa River and its tributaries for salmon and steelhead populations.
 
The practices are then checked regularly through a certification and re-certification process, enabling Hall to remain in good standing with regulators without burdensome or unannounced compliance checks, he said.
 
“We try to do the right thing,” Hall said. “It’s really hard to be compliant. The beauty of fish-friendly farming allows us to prepare that plan, have all 12 agencies sign off, and then we’re free, essentially.”
 
The program, also called Napa Green, started with 11,000 acres in 2004 but has expanded to cover 61,000 acres throughout Napa County currently, said Laurel Marcus, executive director of the California Land Stewardship Institute.
Marcus led a tour Monday morning of two sites along the Napa River — one near Oakville Cross Road, the second east of the town of Yountville — that highlighted the kind of large-scale restoration work agencies have done in concert with the adjacent property owners.
 
U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, Napa County Supervisor Diane Dillon, county Agricultural Commissioner Greg Clark, and other members of the wine industry, trade groups and environmental organizations joined in the tour.
 
Thompson praised the program, which is also exists in Sonoma, Solano, Mendocino, and El Dorado counties, as contributing valuable habitat restoration to salmon fisheries — a $1.4 billion industry in California — while also taking a proactive approach to regulatory compliance.
 
“It’s always better if we’re able to manage and regulate our own properties,” Thompson said. “There’s an avoidance aspect that pays off in spades.”
 
Marcus said the program can entail smaller scale projects such as removing invasive plant species from properties, but the bigger ticket items have made the restoration efforts underway along the Napa River the largest such project in the Bay Area.
 
Property owners in the Rutherford Reach section of the river and Napa County restored a 4.5 mile stretch, which is slated to wrap up next summer. Monday’s tour focused on the next stretch slated for restoration work, from Oakville to Oak Knoll, Marcus said.
 
At the first site off of Oakville Cross Road, Marcus said the adjacent property owners, Franciscan Oakville Estate and Cardinale Winery, have agreed to the restoration work, which includes removal of 1.8 acres of vineyard and converting it to habitat.
 
A steep levy abutting the river channel will be graded down and leveled, allowing crews to create an ancillary channel for juvenile salmon to stay in during the typical heavy river flows in March, Marcus said.
 
Widening and leveling the channel banks, in addition to growing new natural vegetation, will reduce the velocity of the river compared to the narrow channel it navigates currently. The narrow channel increases erosion and the amount of sediment in the river, to the detriment of native fish, while also worsening flooding downstream.
 
The restoration of four acres at this site will cost $2.4 million, split between federal Environmental Protection Agency grants and funding from a local sales tax measure, Measure A, that voters approved in 1998 for flood control projects.
The adjacent vineyard benefited because some stocks that were removed were having problems with Pierce’s disease and other difficulties. Their removal improves the health of the remaining vines.
 
“This is the largest project in the Bay Area,” Marcus said. “To do this in San Jose you have to take out 25 houses on each side.”
 
The second site abuts vineyards owned by Treasury Wine Estates, the Missimer family, the Traina family, and Silverado Vineyards. The project will improve 35 acres of habitat at the expense of 10.7 acres of vines.
 
The channel will be widened to 160 to 250 feet across with similar features as the Oakville Cross location, as well as creating new wetlands and off-channel habitat for salmon and bird species. The project will install 1,400 feet of clean gravel into the river bed for salmon spawning habitat, in addition to lowering steep levies and banks alongside the channel, Marcus said.
 
For Rachel Ashley of Treasury Wine Estates, the project means a loss of vines in a 290-acre vineyard of chardonnay grapes, but comes with new benefits to the environment and to flood protection. Flooding in 2006 did heavy damage to the vineyard when the river ran over its banks and eroded the levy, she said.
 
“This is a fantastic example of the right people working together to put together a really fantastic project,” Ashley said.” This project is so much more than flood protection. It’s about restoring the riparian habitats for the next generation.





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