State office building workers ask I-Team for help with rats, other problems

VALLEJO, Calif. (KGO) -- A woman saw a rat while at her desk in a Vallejo office building, managed by the State of California.



Workers from that building called the I-Team's Dan Noyes for help, saying it's in such bad shape that their health is at risk.

The conditions these workers describe are not just bad for them, but may also be bad for the clients they serve-- people who need help finding a job.

Loretta Dawson is a job coach for Solano County's Workforce Development Board, with offices in this Vallejo building owned and operated by the State of California. But Loretta can't go inside any longer; she meets her clients outside.

Loretta Dawson: "So, I have to wait for them in the parking lot and if they show up, I have to say, 'Okay, let's go to Starbucks.'"

Dan Noyes: "You can't use your own office to do your job?"

Loretta Dawson: "No."

Rat droppings and rat urine has been found on desktops.

Loretta's doctor wrote, "Please allow patient to avoid mice/rat infested work areas until deemed safe/clean to return." Her husband tells us, the rat remnants seem to have exacerbated Loretta's chronic lung condition.

Doug Dawson: "Her respiratory issues usually flare up."

Dan: "Oh, you've actually seen the effects of it?"

Doug Dawson: "Yeah, 'Have you been in Vallejo today,' basically I can tell."

Loretta Dawson: "And it's true, I used to use my inhaler about three times a year, I now use it almost every day.">



Loretta and some of her coworkers tell us the rat issue has spiked since the beginning of May. The office manager tried to pass it off in a memo to staff last week as "one small mouse", but cell phone video from two weeks ago clearly shows a rat with a long tail, rummaging in a potted plant. And the workers believe there's more than one.

"There's a rodent issue in the office in this building," said one unidentified worker.

Several employees wanted to talk to the I-Team, but asked not to be identified to lessen the odds of a dust-up with their boss-- including the woman who shared her desk with that rat, while clients were in the office.

Another worker told us, "It's the fact that I have a child at home and these things do carry diseases and we should feel safe."

But, the problems go further. That same woman had the door to a bathroom stall fall and hit her on the head.

Dan Noyes: "I wonder what you thought when it happened, what went through your mind, besides pain?"

Worker: "A lot of pain. Am I still here? Is this really happening?"

Dan Noyes: "It was a good blow?"

Worker: "Absolutely."

Dan Noyes: "Was there an injury?"

Worker: "Yes, I had a good contusion on my forehead, actually have a broken tooth."

That happened April 26th, nearly six weeks ago, and the door still has not been repaired. Employees took a picture of a chair propping it up. The elevator was out for the past month, not because it was broken.

"I guess they had not paid a bill for inspections," said another worker. "So, whatever company provided the inspections had locked it down until the invoice is cleared."

An obvious concern for disabled clients; it finally went back in service just this week. Adjusting the temperature in the building is very difficult with the thermostats under lock and key. Workers tell us the office can be frigid in winter and searing in summer.

Loretta Dawson told the I-Team, "I'd say, 'Can you do something?' and that's when I found out you got to call the State of California in Sacramento to adjust it."

Dan: "You have to call the State of California, in Sacramento to adjust the thermostat in your building here in Vallejo?"

"Yes."

The workers also worry about a security door in the back that often doesn't close all the way-- in a sometimes dangerous neighborhood. Dan Noyes wanted to see the issues for himself, so he walked into the building, but was stopped by Paula McCray, Employment Program Manager for the state.

Dan Noyes: "So you're saying I can't look around?"

Paula McCray: "That's correct."

Dan Noyes: "Why not? It's a public building. Our tax dollars pay for this."

Paula McCray: "It's a state-owned building."

Dan Noyes: "Right, my tax dollars and your tax dollars pay for it. I ought to be able to walk through it."

McCray said we needed to speak with headquarters in Sacramento, and they asked me to wait for a decision about a tour. Dan Noyes told the state by phone, "I'll be waiting, thank you."

We waited and waited, hours passed with no call back and found another problem in the building-- the restroom was out of order.

The I-Team pressed the California Employment Development Department for a tour and an on-camera interview with Director Patrick Henning. He has spoken in many YouTube videos about jobs, but Henning refused an interview with us. His staff sent a statement that reads in part, "A building of this age does have regular maintenance and repair needs." They claim "issues at the property are addressed in a timely manner", adding, "We do take all tenant concerns seriously."

An exterminator has placed some rat traps around the office. Not much comfort for Loretta Dawson. She's not going back inside until it's all cleaned up.

Loretta Dawson: "I've worked here for 13 years, and this is where I started."

Dan Noyes: "Thirteen years, you've been here?"

Loretta Dawson: "Yes, and this is the worst it's ever been.">

The employees who are speaking out tell us they don't want to throw anyone under the bus. They just want a safer office, for them and their clients. We'll keep watching to see how the state responds.

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