'Our people are our priority': VTA holds 1st board meeting since deadly mass shooting

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- The first VTA board meeting since last Wednesday's mass shooting began at 5:30 p.m. Thursday.

The meeting came more than a week after gunman Samuel Cassidy shot and killed nine of his coworkers at the VTA rail yard in San Jose.

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During the meeting, the distance did little to ease the pain. The virtual board meeting was purposely condensed, as members-only took up time-sensitive items that couldn't be put off.

"Although we are mourning right now, we have to balance the need for us to meet, to consider items that can't be deferred because they are time-sensitive," board chair, Glenn Hendricks shared.

During the Acting General Manager's Report, interim VTA General Manager and General Counsel, Evelynn Tran told board members, "As we navigate these uncharted waters in tragedy and crisis, I want to make it clear that our people are our priority."

There is no doubt the extended VTA community continues to mourn the shooting deaths of nine coworkers. The men were honored by the board and beyond, in a tribute.

Through public comment, a number of speakers acknowledged the heartache that is buried in the days to come.

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"Over the next five days, there's going to be seven funerals for our brothers," one speaker shared. "Which will undoubtedly make them relive each and every painful moment. Can you imagine?"

The man continued, "The answer is 'No,' none of us can."

Others threw their support behind ATU Local 265, which is the union representing VTA workers. They pointed to a year under the pandemic.

Noting, "They've been on the front lines since day one, March of last year, moving the County of Santa Clara."

Several others, realizing the long-lasting impacts of the deadly mass shooting and pushing for more to be done.

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"The tribute speaks to why ATU 265 must-have retroactive hazard pay," another said. "And have it now."

One public speaker added, "We can thank essential workers as much as we want, but that's just lip service. It's time that they receive compensation, just like grocery store workers."

"I look to you, Cindy Chavez and Joe Simitian- who have passed these ordinances across the county. It's 265's turn. If they don't deserve it, I don't know who does," the man continued.

Another shared, "I hope that the light rail facility can return when it's safe. May God protect all of our transit operators and personnel."

Tran shared that more mutual aid is on the way to VTA.

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"In addition to Sam Trans and AC Transit, which has been providing mutual aid to VTA these last few days, Santa Cruz Metro, SFMTA will also be sending aid to VTA beginning tomorrow," she said.

"And we are coordinating with other transit agencies, including Golden Gate for mutual aid as well," Tran added.

On Thursday, many used their allotted one-minute speaking time to share words of encouragement and support.

"These front line workers are also the backbone and support for other front line workers who needed to get to work during this crisis," one man shared. "And those were the workers that we've all depended on at grocery stores..."

"That's a date that will live in infamy in Silicon Valley, just like 7/28/2019... the Gilroy Garlic Festival massacre and shooting," another shared. "Those are dates that are going to live in infamy."

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The Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office confirms more than 100 VTA employees were at the rail yard that Wednesday morning. Authorities have also said the gunman was armed with enough firepower to have done more damage.

The "what if's" are not lost on board leaders.

"I want to specifically call out the three San Jose PD officers and the two sheriff's officers that formed the team to stop the shooter," Hendricks said through tears.

Hendricks shared the second Haiku he wrote in the wake of the mass shooting.

"Smiles are powerful

Give happiness to others

Share much joy with them"


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