Diana Clock/Daily Journal
U.S. Rep Jackie Speier D-San Mateo, speaks to the crowd on the Recovery Act Bus Tour. The tour was conducted on a new, clean-diesel SamTrans bus, one of 135 new vehicles purchased by San Mateo County with the help of stimulus funds from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).
U.S. Rep. Jackie Speier got a firsthand look yesterday at where millions in federal stimulus money is being spent in her district by visiting a massive construction project at San Francisco International Airport, an energy technology company in South San Francisco and a group of nonprofit leaders in San Mateo who have all benefited from the $787 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
Stimulus money has gone toward sustainability projects in the county, capital projects at the airport and has helped keep families from being evicted from their homes by accessing nonprofit agency services. Recovery Act funds have also gone toward keeping teachers employed in Daly City, research at the University of California San Francisco, job training in the county and maintaining jobs at SamTrans and Caltrain.
Speier, D-San Mateo, hopped on a SamTrans bus in San Carlos with San Mateo County Supervisor Rich Gordon, San Carlos Councilman Andy Klein, San Mateo Councilman Robert Ross and Mike Crilly, superintendent of the Jefferson Union High School District, among others to take a three-hour "Recovery Act Projects Tour.”
She pointed out, however, that only about a third of ARRA funds have been doled out so far.
"It is important to see how stimulus money is being spent, although, very little of it has gotten out,” Speier said.
While the state is currently experiencing record unemployment rates, San Mateo County’s rate is significantly lower than its neighbors in the Bay Area and has not received a substantial piece of the stimulus pie.
Speier, county Supervisor Mark Church and the Workforce Investment Program recently sponsored a jobs bootcamp that was paid for with stimulus money.
Peninsula Works, a county program, has applied stimulus money toward job training and has taken a greater interest in helping those 50 and older who are unemployed find jobs.
The county has applied for $40 million in stimulus and a $2.25 billion grant for high-speed rail projects in the state was also recently rewarded that could go toward construction-ready projects on the Peninsula.
The city and county of San Francisco, for instance, has been awarded nearly $340 million in stimulus money so far.
SFO received a total of $29.9 million in ARRA money for projects including $14.5 million to repave an existing runway and $15.4 million for a checked screening project at the airport’s new Terminal 2 that will eventually host Virgin America and American Airlines when completed. About 300 construction jobs were made possible by stimulus money at the airport, said John Martin, airport director.
South San Francisco-based Zenergy Power received an $8.5 million federal matching grant from the Department of Energy for its effort to utilize the efficiency of superconductors. Zenergy designs and builds Fault Current Limiters, or large 40,000-pound surge suppressors for the electric grid. The stimulus money has helped Zenergy become a global company and it has outgrown its Oyster Point headquarters and is set to relocate in Burlingame.
The company added three new employees and is ready to add three more, said Woody Gibson, chief executive officer at Zenergy.
With layoffs in Silicon Valley, Zenergy was able to "cherrypick” some top talent to bring on board. It installed one of its giant surge suppressors at a SoCal Edison facility recently and just made its first sale in the United Kingdom. Zenergy’s technology helps prevent blackouts.
"Hopefully, Congress will keep supporting these programs,” Gibson said.
Caltrain and SamTrans received about $10 million in stimulus money that has helped the transit agencies avoid further layoffs.
The Jefferson Union High School District was ready to cut more teacher positions from its budget when it was awarded a $2.3 million federal stimulus grant. The district’s employees had already taken a 2 percent pay decrease and the stimulus money helped it retain teachers, although, the money will run dry by the end of the school year, Crilly said.
"Even with the stimulus, jobs were lost,” Crilly said.
The city of San Carlos was awarded about $300,000 in stimulus that has gone toward sidewalk improvements and a crosswalk program, Klein said.
In San Mateo, $2.6 million in stimulus money has gone toward street rehabilitation projects, energy conservation and staffing for the Shelter Network at the Vendome Hotel, which provides housing and services for people who were once homeless, said Ross.
At the end of the tour, Speier sat down with several leaders of local nonprofit agencies to discuss how stimulus money has been beneficial in the down economy.
Samaritan House’s Kitty Lopez, Shelter Network’s Michele Jackson and Melissa Lukin of Community Overcoming Relationship Abuse joined together with nine other nonprofit agencies to secure $2 million in grants for the Homelessness Prevention and Rapid Re-Housing Program, funded with ARRA money.
Samaritan House is the lead agency administering the funds.
Speier applauded the group’s effort to work collaboratively to secure the grants rather than competing for the funds.
Kenneth Williams has benefited directly from the stimulus money. He suffered a disabling heart condition that left him on the brink of homelessness. Williams had accessed Samaritan House’s pantry previously when he discovered the nonprofit agency could help him pay his rent after getting an eviction notice.
"I never, never thought I’d be in this situation,” Williams said.
Medical bills have set Williams back considerably, an argument for reforming health care, Speier said.
"The economy is not getting better for the people we see,” said Lopez, the executive director at Samaritan House.
CORA has seen a 30 percent increase in calls.
"Domestic violence leads to homelessness,” said Lukin, CORA’s executive director.
About half of the $787 billion in stimulus money has actually gone toward extending unemployment benefits for those who have lost their jobs, Speier said. The state’s unemployment rate is currently at 12.7 percent while San Mateo County’s hovers at about 9.7 percent.
"There is a great fear of fraud and abuse with this stimulus money,” Speier said. "There will be a strong emphasis for accountability.”
Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.