After a disaster, people go through two of the most complicated recovery issues at the same time: trauma and legal. It is almost impossible to make a sound judgment regarding financial matters amidst a traumatic event. And it’s terrifying to make these decisions knowing criminals and exploiters are waiting to take advantage of your vulnerability. This week, Jennifer brings Kendall Jarvis, Esq. on the show to talk about helping disaster survivors and vulnerable communities receive the legal aid they deserve. As the Lead Disaster Attorney for Sonoma, Kendall has seen countless inequities, injustices, and unmet needs among survivors. In this episode, Kendal brings in her expertise in terms of navigating the legal aid appeal process, dealing with the primary and secondary impacts of a disaster, protection from fraud and tenant rights violation, and the injustices faced by undocumented communities because of the ironies in the immigration system. Recovery is a lengthy process. Tune in and learn practical ways you can do to advocate for yourself and your family.

 

“Advocate for yourself as best as you can in terms of knowing what your rights are.  There’s this element where you lack confidence as a survivor, you think that that person knows more than you do and that’s not true.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq. 

 

 

Highlights:

  • 02:41: The Biggest Recovery Issues 
  • 12:02: The Appeal Process
  • 21:20: How to Deal with Disaster Impacts
  • 29:56: Fraud Awareness
  • 34:21: Tenant Protection
  • 47:15: Advocate For Yourself
  • 58:05: The Injustices Faced by the Undocumented

 

Quotes: 

18:19: “Anyone who has suffered a total loss is a valid reason for it to take a little bit of time to get the documentation you need. It’s difficult in terms of the learning curve because none of us knew what we were doing before this happened.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.

19:39: “A secret sauce in all disaster is figuring out what your particular place is and own that lane because there’s no way anybody can do it all.” -Jennifer Gray Thompson

20:23: “There’s no way to emotionally or educationally, prepare you for what it’s like to go through the process of recovery.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.

26:46: “You can’t waste money. It’s really, really, really hard to repeat this money, You can’t get something from someone that doesn’t have it anymore.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.

33:27: “Anyone in the disaster zone is definitely more vulnerable to crime. The only real way you can get around it is to stop it before it begins.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.  

48:18: “If you get the wrong person on the phone, you just need to call back because there are people that will be very helpful.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq. 

49:24: “Advocate for yourself as best as you can in terms of knowing what your rights are.  There’s this element where you lack confidence as a survivor, you think that that person knows more than you do and that’s not true.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq. 

50:42: “A lot of what civil law is, is about being reasonable. We all agreed to be in this society together and treat each other reasonably. If you feel that they aren’t, and you’re a reasonable person, you’re probably right. ” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.

51:45: “If it feels wrong, it’s probably wrong. People can’t create new ways to work in a disaster. They’re still required to abide by the law.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq. 

55:45: “The more vulnerable you are going in, the harder it is to navigate; the less time you have to make these decisions. And when making these financial decisions up against a very traumatic emotional experience, a lot of people either cannot do it, or they go the opposite way and ignore their mental health.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.

 

Meet Kendall Jarvis Esq.:  

Kendall recently completed law school and graduated as Salutatorian with a Juris Doctorate and Masters of Law. Currently, Kendall is the Disaster Relief Attorney for Legal Aid of Sonoma County. Kendall is also a certified Mediator and dedicates her free time volunteering within her community.

Connect with the Legal Aid of Sonoma:

 

Transcription:

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Welcome to the podcast How To Disaster, we help you recover, rebuild and reimagine. My name is Jennifer Gray Thompson, I’m the CEO of After The Fire. We’re bringing you an incredibly important perspective on this week’s episode with Kendall Jarvis. She’s the lead disaster relief attorney at Legal Aid of Sonoma County. Legal Aid of Sonoma County provides legal crisis services to low income residents who are often undocumented families who have no other place to turn. They step into a space that helps very vulnerable people. In this new normal of mega fires in the West, we’re seeing more and more people who are struggling to recover because they don’t have funds. They perhaps didn’t have renter’s insurance. And often they don’t have documentation. I’ve had the pleasure of working with Kendall for a number of years. I really admired her work and the work of Legal Aid during their disaster in 2017, they really stepped into a space that was full of unmet needs, it was full of inequities. And they have worked very hard in the years and all the disasters to really level that field to really help people who otherwise would have no place to turn. So I wanted to have Kendall on the podcast today so that she could talk to us about what are the particular problems that arise after a disaster for vulnerable communities in what can be done? And what can be done in maybe your town wherever you are if you have a legal aid or if you have an attorney service. Or if you want to volunteer your services in a way, and your train. How is that possible? How can that be leveraged in service to the recovery? So thank you so much for spending time with us today on the podcast, How To Disaster. 

So once again, welcome Kendall Jarvis to the podcast.

Kendall Jarvis: Thank you for having me. I really appreciate it.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I wanted to have you on because we had worked together during the 2017 wildfire recovery. We’ve actually had four disasters since then three mega fires in one flood. I saw firsthand the amazing work that you do with vulnerable communities. I wonder if you could tell us your fire story and how you came to do the work that you’re currently doing in the space of disasters specifically.

Kendall Jarvis: Well, thank you again for sharing this opportunity to talk about such issues. I do think it’s definitely incredibly important. And unfortunately, something that can be lost in the mainstream story that comes out of a lot of the information that our community has gone through. From a simplistic standpoint, after the cinema complex buyers for 2017, I literally got a call from legal aid. I didn’t turn up there in law school and clerked there in law school, and they said that I really need to start my disaster program. We don’t know exactly what the needs are, but we know that there’s a huge community need. I was like, absolutely, I’m happy. Hang down the next day. They were like, do you want to do this? You want to think about it? I was like, nope, I’ll be here tomorrow. So we started the disaster relief team or the Disaster Relief Program as we sort of equally refer to it as. And at the time, we didn’t actually know what all of the legal issues that would arise would be. I mean, obviously, there’s speculation. You could talk to people from other disasters. But until you experience it, or your community experiences it, you sort of have that disconnected media feel. 

Everyone saw Katrina, you see on the news how awful it is, you feel for those people, it definitely affects you and impacts you. Many of us volunteer, or we donate money, or do whatever we can do to help keep the conversation alive. But you realize what happens to your community, how little you really actually understood the impact of something that happens so quickly. So quickly. We’re literally, the day before yesterday, people’s lives were very, very different. And all of a sudden, they’ve changed completely. And one of the original things we did was enter the local Assistance Center, what we call, and the disaster recovery center that follows after, and it became apparent very, basically immediately that almost all issues that people deal with related to recovery fall into kind of two categories. One of them is trauma mental health related, and the other is legal. And there was a learning curve and trying to help the community understand the issues that they did run into more legal issues. Most people had never filed a FEMA claim before, right? I’ve met two people that previously filed FEMA claims. But that was a very rare instance. 

Generally speaking, that had not happened. Though from an insurance standpoint, even for those who were insured, maybe you found somebody broke into my garage and stole something, or it had a burst pipe, but you were not looking at a total loss, nor were you well equipped to deal with either of those issues. And issues just sort of continuously trickle down, and you don’t realize what it means to literally lose your marriage license, let alone title to your home, if you’re fortunate enough to own one. Or your kids’ birth certificates and you’re supposed to enroll them in school. There’s so many pieces of the puzzle that come up that people have not had to deal with prior to going through this kind of experience, that we pretty much very early on knew that we would be really necessary, but that we would have to help the community understand that these issues are legal issues.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I really appreciate that. One of the things that happened in our disaster in our first disaster in 2017 is you had people of all incomes who had lost their homes. So we lost about 6000 units in our mega fire, because that’s what it was. CALFIRE had never seen that kind of fire behavior before, and so it was traumatic on the one level. So thank you for mentioning mental health because mental health matters a lot. And on the other hand, you had people who were insured. And that not that that was an easy path, and we’re super grateful to United policyholders and any organization for filling that particular lane. But there’s all these other people who were not insured, who were renters, who were undocumented, who found themselves in a very precarious position with not only having lost everything and perhaps a flood for their lives, but now have no financial recourse back. So can you talk about that particular huge gap as need you guys really stepped in for that?survivor

Kendall Jarvis: Absolutely. I think one important thing to point out is that when you’re not a member of the community of survivors that’s impacted, there’s an easy assumption that you have insurance. That means that you have adequate insurance, that you’re going to be able to rebuild, that you can do all of that. I know you’ve talked about this on the show before so I won’t go down that road too far. But one thing we learn pretty quickly is that at least 85% of people in our community were under insured. And many of those severely under insured, especially in the more vulnerable aspects of the community that was lost. So for example, the Coffee Park, 60% of the people that live there were renters. So landlords don’t have the additional buffer of having a personal property policy attached where maybe you can rebuild your home if you use your personal property and your dwelling coverage together, and you figure out how to furnish it later. But a landlord policy doesn’t have that. So we saw a huge loss of property that was incredibly valuable to our community because we have so many renters. And then we saw in addition to that, that there’s an expectation that people would have first last in security. 

You live in Sonoma County, it’s an expensive place to live. So how could you possibly live here if you don’t have additional money sitting in the bank? Well, the reality is very few renters have first last in security for an average rent of a one bedroom at 1500. At the time, that had only skyrocketed since then. As we all know that disasters simply increase the cost of basically everything, rent or ship, obviously the cost to rebuild, the cost of goods and supplies around you. So very quickly, the gap for those who came in vulnerable became larger. And that’s something that’s consistent in general with disasters. There aren’t many studies done on this, but those that have been done on it basically draw the same conclusions. Which is if you go into a disaster vulnerable, whether that’s traditional vulnerability for income, and my elderly, do I have a disability, things of that nature, or you’re vulnerable because you don’t have adequate protections, such as you don’t have insurance or you’re severely under insured, that there really is a huge pressure that’s not just put on the individual survivorship household to try and fill that financial gap and make these decisions in a very traumatic time. But there’s also an expectation that the community can deal with it. And it’s not something that is easily dealt with within a community. 

We were fortunate enough in the 2017 fires and in the most recent, but this has not been true of all fires to have a FEMA individual assistance declaration. I’m incredibly grateful that the FEMA individual assistance allows households whether you’re a renter or homeowner, as long as it’s your primary residence and you’re eligible in terms of someone’s 18 or older, they’re lawfully in the United States, etc, etc. But they provide funding to some extent for financial gaps in the need for temporary housing, and financial gaps in the need for rebuilding. The problem we saw with that is sort of multifaceted California. And I think this is true of many other states, especially on the west coast. But this would also be true of states like New York, where the cost of living is incredibly high. So no one’s really immune to it, it’s just more obvious in certain areas. And it became very obvious in California very quickly, where we were fortunate enough to have the opportunity, or at least a certain percentage of our community to have access to FEMA individual assistance. But number one, it’s bureaucratic. People are not really used to working through the process. And the way that it unfolds basically tells people, for example, if you have any kind of insurance at all that you’re just not eligible, and what people viewed that is, I’m not eligible, because we use that term colloquially, as then I’m never going to become eligible. It’s not some hurdle that you can overcome, it’s a barrier to entry. And that led a lot of people to believe, okay, well, why would I appeal, let alone understand how to appeal? So we’re fortunate,

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I need you to talk about that. So important to say the appeal process, because people don’t know this, and it’s such a big deal. They are already traumatized who had never occurred to them to do an appeals process that they are entitled to, and they should do SBA, it’s the same thing, take up to three appeals to get what you actually need. So can you just talk about that quickly, because I think that that’s a huge service to other communities to know.

Kendall Jarvis: For sure, for sure. We definitely see that consistently in other communities that enter into first time disaster status, where they really don’t know what to do with the FEMA declaration, besides having people register. That’s sort of the obvious point. And FEMA comes in and generally helps with the registration process. COVID provides an additional different layer that I know many communities have struggled with, including ours in terms of recent fires. But in general, it’s difficult to work through the process. I think, for starters, because nobody deals with this prior to it’s, as I said, very rare to have people go through the FEMA process multiple times in their life. Secondarily, I think that people are so overwhelmed that they register, they do what they’re told. They say, okay, here’s our household. Here’s why we think we’re eligible. And people, when they deal with really any government entity, they tend to overshare. They don’t want to get in trouble so they start telling themselves, here is every possible asset I ever could have whether it is considered an asset or not, they don’t really consider, no. So it becomes easy to basically be determined is not eligible. 

You have the whole secondary issue that we could talk about in a moment that you have to be considered lawfully in the United States. But putting that on hold for a second, the FEMA, even if you are theoretically eligible, the FEMA appeals process is something that is problematic. I know when we worked initially in this arena, it was very valuable and important. And really, nobody else was doing it. There were a few attorneys here and there that were willing to do it, but not many, because it isn’t something people specialize in. Attorneys don’t go around following FEMA to try and help people go through the process. So when that comes into your community, they’re sort of unfortunately few and far between. They’re willing to step up and say, okay, let’s figure this out. Let’s see what we need to do. Especially because it is so valuable for those who are more vulnerable, because it may be your only actual resource period, or your only additional financial gap resource. I remember when we first started our FEMA clinic program, there was a training that someone had told me to watch on our state board ad, and I watched the training and it was terrifying. It was like you needed a letter of representation. You must inform FEMA that you will be the only point of contact. You will show up at any hearings, provide all documentation. So there was a sort of barrier to entry even from a legal standpoint because there was concern about how these appeals were practically handled on a ground level. 

So I actually read the Stafford Act, which I don’t recommend. It is incredibly long, but that was my place to start, which is the FEMA Enabling Act. And from there, it became apparent that it didn’t have to be that difficult. Just because it had been difficult in so many other communities, I really felt that it was something that, sure, I’m here to help with. I’m happy to help. We had great pro bono support as well. But I also really felt that there was an important level of bringing survivors into that process. So they were taking back a piece of something that they should be entitled to, that they really need and to share the importance of that. So eventually it became apparent that you can basically help with a FEMA appeal in a way that is pretty straightforward, which is sure there’s certain information you have to include in the appeal, like your name, your address, your mailing address, your last address, your FEMA registration number, your disaster number. But basically, the question is a little bit lost. Well, what a what? Where it’s like, why is FEMA denying me? What does their information tell me? And can I present an argument contrary to that, and hopefully, can I present documentation in addition that supports my conclusion rather than theirs? 

And one of the most valuable things I learned actually was to call first. There’s sort of this thought that it’s so formal that you have to respond in writing or that you should. And as a lawyer, I would generally say, please respond to things in writing so you have a record of it. But if you get someone on the phone, and FEMA and that person happens to be helpful, they may be able to really push your application process forward much more quickly and with less stress than if you have to go through the whole formal appeals process. And similarly, I hate to say it, but I would always tell people, if you call and you get someone on the phone that’s not helpful, just tell them you’re gonna call back later and literally hang up and call again, because there are definitely people that are helpful there. It’s just like any other institution, it’s as good as the experience the person on the other side of the line has, and some have done this for some time. 

 

“Anyone who has suffered a total loss is a valid reason for it to take a little bit of time to get the documentation you need. It’s difficult in terms of the learning curve because none of us knew what we were doing before this happened.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.

 

Others are new, and that was especially a problem with our fires, because it was Katrina, then Harvey, then Sonoma complex, and they were just spread very thin. So we got a lot of new people attempting to address that piece of the puzzle. And I will say you pointed out that sometimes, it takes up to three appeals. There’s always the hope that it just takes one appeal, and those are my favorite. But at the end of the day, I’ve appealed cases more than 10 times. I think that there is sort of this expectation, because this is what FEMA says that there are very strict guidelines in terms of time and number of appeals that can be provided. But realistically speaking, there’s a sort of caveat that says, if you have a good faith explanation for why you need more time, or why you didn’t do this within the original time period, or why you just got this additional information that they have to consider it and they generally do well. And in my opinion, anyone who has suffered a total loss, which I don’t have to tell you about since you’ve been there, that that is a valid reason for it to take a little bit of time. For it to be hard to get the documentation you need, for it to be hard just to find a resource like me that was willing to help you through the process. It’s just difficult in terms of the learning curve, because none of us really knew what the heck we were doing before this happened.

 

“A secret sauce in all disaster is figuring out what your particular place is and own that lane because there’s no way anybody can do it all.” -Jennifer Gray Thompson

 

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Well, I think that one of the things that we really tried to do from the beginning in our county, to be clear, Sonoma County is incredibly well resourced, and a lot of the communities that we serve are not. And so we have to just acknowledge that there is a basic inequity in that as well, and we are not giving legal advice. So that is my disclaimer, you should consult an attorney, and Kendall is an attorney, you can consult her. But this podcast is not a substitute for legal advice. I just want to keep us clean there. But I think one of the things that I really enjoyed was how we figured out how to find our lanes. So if anybody came to me and they said, oh, hey, Jen, I have a question about legal. I was like, stop there. Go to legal aid, they are going to tell you, and I think a secret sauce in all disaster is figure out what your particular places and own that lane, because there’s no way anybody can do it all like it just doesn’t occur that no community recovers or rebuilds with a single or even like 50 people at the helm. It actually requires the entire community to lean into it. I just wanted to make sure that that part went in there that none of us knew what we were knew what this was like before October 8, 2017, because there was no way to know that.

 

“There’s no way to emotionally or educationally, prepare you for what it’s like to go through the process of recovery.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.

 

Kendall Jarvis: There’s no real preparation outside of literally attempting to prevent the destruction firesafe your property, and be adequately insured. But there’s no way to emotionally or educationally prepare you for what it’s like to go through the process of recovery, fortunately.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: And when we go into new communities, we welcome them to this club that nobody wants to be in. Nobody wants to be in this club. And we’re also a third of our work is called before the fire, because we’re hoping that we can help more communities avoid ever becoming part of these really painful life changing clubs. So that’s a very good thing to acknowledge. Can you talk to us about the secondary impacts, especially related to housing post disaster. For example, in Chico, they saw a 30% increase just about overnight in their population so a different city had to deal with all of the secondary impacts. But even in a place like Sonoma County, we dealt with and are still dealing with secondary impacts as well as the primary.

Kendall Jarvis: Yes, of course. You could talk about this for like 25 hours. This is a long, very deep conversation. But I think from a more simplistic or 10,000 foot level, the reality is that for communities like ours, which is true of many communities that are desirable to live in is that we had a housing problem before we went into the disasters of it, before we went into the first one. So losing a significant portion of your housing stock basically overnight and having the displacement and the competition associated with displacement creates real significant obstacles. So the issue obviously existed. We didn’t have enough housing period, we didn’t have enough affordable housing. This was something our community had talked about for quite some time. And then the buyers happen, and there’s a sudden rush to basically temporarily rehouse people that have been impacted and displaced. And for those who are fortunate enough to be insured and have adequate insurance, it isn’t the easiest process in the world, which I think is something that people don’t really realize. So even if you have the resource, financially, to start out when you’re dealing with real significant competition, and you’re also dealing with either your insurance and or FEMA in the setting of, if you don’t have insurance, and the reality is–

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Okay, I just want to interrupt and just flag the issue of fraud really quickly, because I meant to bring that up. When you’re talking about FEMA, FEMA is not trying to make disaster victims miserable. They’re really not. But fraud is a huge problem. Lots of us see a lot of fraudulent claims filed on behalf of people. There are people who all they do is fraud, it’s their jam. I don’t know they sleep at night, especially, I don’t even understand it. But it is a huge issue. So they’re not trying to make you deny you, but then they have these processes that actually provide big barriers to entry. And then for disaster victims after it happened, I knew people who had lost their home and people just started calling them offering them their home and they thought they were being nice. What they’re really trying to do was make an exorbitant rent off of a rental that they had, because it’s like, so I’m just hoping you can talk about that too, that maybe that’s not fraud, but it is a little shady.

Kendall Jarvis: Yeah. One thing I will say is, I remember watching the fires unfold when I was in an evacuation area as well. And fortunately, I didn’t lose my home. But there were all these stories on the news about how people were going and looting homes. And if you’re not a person that even remotely considers that, like you and I both are, it’s shocking. You’re like, how can this happen? Why would someone do this? It’s obviously very offensive to the community. It’s obviously illegal. And even in their own interest, it’s obviously very dangerous and takes resources away from the fire. So that sort of insanity you don’t really see stop, even though you think that because you don’t think that way. You think, let’s all come together. Let’s do this. It’s hard to see the significant burdens that are placed by that kind of conduct prior to them happening to you. And one thing that we know for sure about FEMA, which is true, like the insurance industry in other places is that they’ve been doing this for a very long time. So they have definitely seen the patterns that arise. And unfortunately, I was referred to as a few that ruin it for the whole, where there is this element in terms of the influx of cash, literally in individuals bank accounts, whether it be from insurance or from FEMA. But there’s this assumption that they know, I would leverage to call them criminals, these criminals are aware of the fact that there is a significant amount of money that has just come into a particular community. So then, they seek to target the most vulnerable. And sometimes, that can be on any basis. Like for example, we saw that significantly with people that were older than a certain age, or which we would legally refer to as elder. However, I don’t like that term. Nobody feels like an elder.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Elder in a way, but maybe I’m good at it. Or maybe because I’m 52 now and I’m on my way to elderly town, and I’m okay.

 

“You can’t waste money. It’s really, really, really hard to repeat this money, You can’t get something from someone that doesn’t have it anymore.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.

 

Kendall Jarvis: Well, you won’t legally qualify for 13 more years. We saw that happen a lot where there were a variety of scams. So it wasn’t simplistic to just look at one, people would come in and claim they would literally just google map or I guess physically view sites that were lost, and claim it was their parcel, and FEMA would have to work through that. And unfortunately, for the family that actually needed that funding, they would have to wait. So there’s a federal mandate for all federal programs that says that basically from a simplistic standpoint, you can’t waste money. And that’s really what this comes back to is that in prior disasters, I know this happened significantly. 

In Katrina, for example, there was a lot of money paid out that the federal government believed should not have been paid out or should not have been paid out for the value that it was paid out. And it’s really, really, really hard to repeat this money. Because of whatever one of those things that are appropriate. You can’t get something from someone that doesn’t have it anymore. So sure, there’s levels of literal criminal prosecution, but that’s not really a famous MO. Their MO is to follow the trail, do what they can, defend the payment and request for payment, if possible. And I think that that sort of sets up disasters that happen afterwards for this sort of concern that, okay, well, should you really have been paid who is the actual person? How do I know this is you? And I think it becomes more complicated in a wildfire on some level. But keep in mind, this was the first large wildfire that FEMA had ever declared a declaration for. So you come in, and if there’s a flood or something like that, there’s at least some property left, there’s at least something, here’s your family photos, like maybe they’re not usable any longer. But it’s clear and obvious, it’s your home. It’s like nothing is left. It’s literally ash. There are people who tell stories that they’re fireproof safes were totally melted. They had gold somewhere, and it’s just gone. And it’s not because somebody stole it, it’s because that’s how hot the fire was. 

So when you get to a place of 2500 degrees or more, you don’t have anything to really look at, and to really sift through. And I think that presented an additional challenge for FEMA and created an opportunity, not intentionally and not on FEMA’s behalf, but from a more sinister standpoint, it created an opportunity for people to come in and say, oh, yeah, this was my house. I lived here. Or I know these elderly people here just got money from FEMA, or likely that they did so let me target them on Facebook, let me find their text information and tell them that a family member is sick. I mean, it’s pretty disgusting, and something that those of us who would never do that had a hard time seeing it before it hit, which is why this is such a good point for you to bring up, that it’s really important that other communities understand that and warn people against it. Be on the lookout for that kind of behavior.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: And if you are a disaster survivor, and you unfortunately were the victim of a scam to help other people not become a victim or to it may be embarrassing, but it’s actually really helpful information for people to share their stories so that we can help other people not undergo that sort of double, triple whammy at that point of trauma and pain.

Kendall Jarvis: Absolutely. And the ways in which that kind of fraud occurs have become much more inventive than they were even just a few years ago. I mean, you could get a text at any moment in time, or a call literally from a phone number that appears to be from someone you know, or from your actual bank telling you that they need your social media immediately, and frauds have been alerted on your account. And of course, we used to believe that stuff like it was from a foreign number yet you hope, okay, no, I’m not going to fall for this, even though many, many people did. But it’s gotten a bit more diabolical in recent years, and I think that makes it harder not to fall victim. I myself even got a text the other day and then a phone call alleging to be from VFA. And I was about to engage in this conversation, I was like, I bet they’d be calling me. So fortunately enough, I logged on to my online app, which is generally the safest way to engage but the person fell for it.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: It’s super difficult for seniors, we actually had an incident like the second year of our operation where somebody pretended they spoofed my email address and sent it, I didn’t even know how they knew who my bookkeeper was. So that’s weird. And requesting $50,000 be wired or the check, and she cut the check, and she sent it to me to sign. I was like, believe me, if it was $5, I would know where it goes. Definitely, you need to have all these stopgaps in it, so they were also target nonprofits. We just saw the city of Sebastopol and the City of Santa Rosa. So a lot of it is online cyber criminality which for seniors is particularly difficult, especially after a disaster because what they need is a phone call from an ethical human being who would depend on phone calls, and a lot of them are alone. And it’s particularly disheartening to have human beings who would prey upon that group. So I would just like to note that if you do have a disaster in your community just happen, that’s something to ramp up right away are protections for seniors. And that means in the way to make them fraud aware, is usually a more personal approach.

 

“Anyone in the disaster zone is definitely more vulnerable to crime. The only real way you can get around it is to stop it before it begins.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.  

 

Kendall Jarvis: Absolutely. And on that same note, one of the unfortunate legal realities of that issue in general is if someone in your own community or someone identifiable within the United States targets someone who’s elderly, there are vast laws that really protect that age group. But if it’s someone that is from a wire transfer in another country, that is difficult to identify. They quite frankly could even be next door, but bounce their signal from so many places that they’re hard to trace. There is very, very, very little that can be done about that. I mean, I always refer this stuff to the FBI Cyber Crimes Unit, that’s exactly what they’re there for. There’s an office, basically, in any county, or at least nearby, there’s a significant presence, and they’re happy to look into it. But it’s hard to actually get justice for someone. So if someone gets taken for 20 grand, and that was all that they were going to get from FEMA. FEMA is not going to come back and say we’re sorry, you lost your money to a scab. Unfortunately, that’s just not the way that it works. And that’s the same with insurance. If you have money in your bank from your insurance company and you’re like, well, I didn’t mean to, or A, B and C happen, they’re still not going to make up that difference. So being very, very aware that anyone in the disaster zone is definitely more vulnerable to that kind of crime is really important, because the only really real way you can get around it is to stop it before it begins.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Yeah, I appreciate that. When we go back to secondary impacts as a huge concern in every community that we enter into about housing. I’m going to take us back to that about renters in particular who are evicted even though it can be illegal to evict them in order to put in a much higher paying renter that people will use the loopholes, we saw a lot of price gouging, and some of it was referred to the district attorney. What did you witness from the side of the tenants? And what kind of tenant protections are really important to implement after a disaster?

Kendall Jarvis: Absolutely. So one of the difficult things is to speak in generalities about housing. Because quite frankly, housing laws are something that is governed literally by your local government. So here are City Council, or county supervisors, also your state. So here is our state legislature. And then there are certain federal elements that come into play either legally or from an agency oversight legal perspective, like from the Department of Housing and Urban Development, or the Department of Housing and Community Development. But because of that, it means that you’re going to have a variety of different realities. That’s even true within any dividuals state. Something that happens here is going to be governed differently than something that happens in San Francisco, for example. And we are basically bordering counties with Miranda in the middle. So you get there in less than an hour, but your outcome could be significantly different based on the fact that the law is different. So first, identifying what the law is really important. And we can work pretty quickly that that was not something people were aware of, mostly, because why do you have to think about it? You think previously, what are my rights as a tenant, but you aren’t thinking what are my rights as a tenant in a disaster? Does that change what my rights are? And the answer is possibly, and hopefully.

In a community like ours, in a state like ours, we have a penal code that is a what we call an anti price gouging statute code 396B. And that prohibits the increase of, basically, the sale of any good service of more than 10% after a disaster occurs. And for a duration of a declaration as declared by the governor, we noticed a number of interesting things about this. First, our state really hasn’t been out of a state of emergency. Our county arguably has gone in and out of states of emergency depending on what the local executive orders were. But from a state level since 2017, we’ve had ongoing executive orders that say California is in a tough space based on what’s occurring in a variety of counties. So as a result, we basically had the ability to use the price gouging statute since the 2017 buyers. And one of the pieces of the price gouging statute covers is the increase in cost in rental housing. Meaning that theoretically under the statute, someone is not allowed to increase the cost of rental housing more than 10% as the day before the 2017 fires. And the reality is, it’s really hard to believe, it sounds like a great idea. It is a great idea. I’m very glad that we have it, there are criminal elements to it. 

As you mentioned the DA can involve themselve in the attorney general, there are also civil elements to it. So organizations like Legal Aid as well, the county can use the civil elements to basically attempt to push back with the civil elements do is give a potential penalty. So they present the opportunity to ask a judge to say, hey, this landlord’s price gouge and because of that, they should be fined. From a criminal standpoint in theory, it’s a misdemeanor. So basically, you can be fined or you can do up to a year, one day less than a year in jail. So it’s not a prison sentence. It’s a jail sentence. Potentially, we rarely see that because the reality of most of the people that price gouge sort of falls into two categories. One, they’re literally just people landlords are trying to do what they think is a correct business decision. Like there’s an opportunity, all of the prices of housing are going up. They think, okay, well, we can make some more money. That’s fine, the mom and pop kind of scenario. When they’re presented with the question of, hey, did you know that there’s a statute in place that says that what you’re doing is illegal? They generally will say, no, we did not know, and we are willing to rectify that. So they might increase it to that 10%. But generally, those sorts of individual landlords don’t go above and beyond. 

The second group is a sort of distant landlord or larger property management company that is not necessarily located within the county, which happens a lot here especially for larger apartment complexes. And unfortunately, people that are more vulnerable in general, that’s a little harder to deal with because there’s this expectation that, okay, if we did something wrong, then bring sue, talk to our legal department. So it becomes hard for individuals to point out to large corporations that they’re actually in a geographical area that is protected and their read can’t be increased. And unfortunately, every time that I’ve dealt with this, you have to have the added conversation that it can put pressure on your relationship with your landlord. So there are protections under the law for retaliatory eviction. Let’s say someone should not be able to be evicted for at least in California for at least six months after they assert a right in writing. However, how long those protections really last are questionable. So you can protect yourself for some period of time. But what we saw here is a lot of people were unwilling to take that strong of a stance because there was a significant amount of fear of like, what if my landlord then kicks me out? And I would say, well, you have at least six months of protection, but I can’t guarantee anything after that. And that’s unfortunately the reality. So people would say, well, what if I need more than six months? I mean, for a lot of people, it’s like, I’ve lived here for a number of years. I mean, we’ve even had stories where people live there for 15, 20 years. And suddenly, they’re being faced with 50% rent increases because that’s, quote unquote, what the market theoretically fares because of increased competition.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: And if they’re undocumented, they’re highly unlikely to assert any rights. And if they’re also not eligible for any sort of relief, or in our case, because we live in a heavy agricultural area with a lot of hospitality, we have a significant population that is undocumented that have been here for decades do contribute that do pay taxes, that are part of the fiber of our community who matter, quite frankly. And when they are faced with eviction to make room for somebody else with 6000 units of housing gone, then they are very unlikely to protest or find a path forward. So I’m glad that legal aid is able to help step into that. But I agree with you, we missed a lot of patience. We had an egregious case here in Sonoma valley of price gouging, and I worked for the county at the time. 

So I spent a lot of time screenshotting all of their before and after the fire, their rental housing, and it was like nine times the amount as well. All of a sudden, this person was asking and had a number of rental properties, and then was trying to evict his current tenants in the rental properties, often elderly, and the DA got involved. And I did refer all of my findings to the DA to support the tenants. And that person was not indicted. They told me he wouldn’t be and I was exceeded. I thought, well, he absolutely deserves to be. He doesn’t live here anymore, and I’m not naming him. But it’s complicated. I don’t know the reasons why, and I assume that the DA has their reasons, but it was a bit of a campaign of terror on his behalf because he was actually gleeful at the opportunity. I know we’re talking about bad people in this conversation. I just want to know most people are awesome during a disaster, renew your faith in humanity, at least they did for me. But the people who are bad actors are really bad.

Kendall Jarvis: Yeah. I think you bring up a couple of good points. The first being, there’s sort of two ways to price gouge right. One is, you’re an existing tenant. I’m a landlord, I’m going to come in and tell you as an existing tenant, you suddenly have to pay me 30% more than rent starting in 30 to 60 days, sometimes 90, but that’s a rare protection in California. So there’s generally some notice period. But if you’re an existing tenant, you know exactly how much they’ve increased your rent, because you know what you were paying the month before. There’s a second type which you bring up, which is, I’m a landlord, I’m going to evict you. And I’m going to bring someone else in here who I think is going to pay more money. And that’s harder. Because unless the tenant can find out what the new tenant pays, once they’re removed, there’s no recourse. And even if they can find out what they’re paid, they’ve still been removed. So sure, they can attempt to sue for damages, they can attempt to bring it to the DA, they can say, I now have to pay $500 a month more somewhere else in rent, and argue that that should be compensated by a landlord. But that becomes really tricky, and takes a lot of time, effort and energy.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: One thing I enjoyed about this very bad person is he was dumb enough to actually advertise the units they were currently occupied for rent at a much higher rates, like he built his own case against him. So he wasn’t a genius. He was a bit of an evil person, but certainly not an evil genius.

Kendall Jarvis: I laughed not because the situation is funny, but because there are some people that are so sure about their illegal convictions that they do not understand how unlawful it is, regardless of what you put in front of them to expose the opposite. I also think the other point that you raised is the DA piece of the puzzle. And in all fairness to the district attorney’s office, I think suddenly, and this is true of any DA that’s putting out a position. Suddenly, they’re in a position where the state’s telling them, sure you have this additional law, you can use it, but it’s not like they get additional funding. It’s not like they had an open position that said, let’s dedicate to price gouging. And I think here the DA assigned an investigator, assigned to a district attorney and attempted to push a lot of those cases forward. But what was seen time and time again is that either once an investigator talked to them, they would back off. Or once they were days before arraignment, they would be like, we’re just kidding, we’re gonna not actually increase the rent. 

So suddenly, the DA is using all these resources to push forward an issue that they should, that I completely support. But that is hard to do. And I think what we learn from that was in other communities, if there was more collaboration from a civil arena to a criminal arena, I think we would have gotten better results. If I could have gone in, for example, and tried to let any landlord that was price gouging, know that this was illegal, and if the landlord was like, sorry, of course, I won’t do this, I get it. Great. We let that go. But if they come back and they say, no, I don’t care. This is my right. Like in the scenario that you’ve presented, then that goes to the DA, because that obviously deserves criminal prosecution from the way that I’ve heard the story. So I think that that was more of an administrative sort of exhaustion that we saw rather than should we or should we not follow every single one of these cases. It’s just tough.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: It’s super tough. And to be clear that the thing is with our disaster is a lot of the county employees. We all underwent the disaster together, and a lot of county employees lost their homes. I actually thought the investigator did a fantastic job and was very on it. I was surprised that he wasn’t indicted. But I assume the best that they had, probably, the day before they had to move on, there were a number of issues to deal with including things like contractor fraud. So that’s a fun one too. So as long as we’re in the bad things that people do, or have to experience after a disaster, Kendall Jarvis, I can rename this entire podcast, can you talk a little bit about just how to be aware of the things that rise, the things that you saw when people walk through your doors in a disaster having to do with not just housing, but also contractors?

 

“If you get the wrong person on the phone, you just need to call back because there are people that will be very helpful.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.

 

Kendall Jarvis: Yeah. I think generally speaking, the reality is that being a survivor is kind of a flip of the coin. And I really don’t say that flippantly. There are some people that go through this process. And as those questions start to unfold, was I insured? If you are great, was I not? If you’re not, you’re in a very tough place. Secondarily, even if you are insured, who’s my adjuster? Is this someone that’s going to help me get access to my funds? Or is this going to be a nightmare. And it’s really the flip of a coin. Some people that were insured, they had great policies, they got easy access to their money, that’s awesome. For many, many people, they were on the other side of that token, or either they started out under insured, or they started out under insured, and then had an adjuster that didn’t even want to give them access to the funds that they have. And I think the same is true of all of the processes we go through. I was saying about FEMA before where if you get the wrong person on the phone, you just need to call back. Because it is true, there are people there that will be very helpful, and they will help push through your registration, your application, your appeal, whatever. There are also people that either are not going to know enough about what’s going on, or they’re going to formulate their own opinions. I think that we saw that both insurance and FEMA were, generally speaking, the people, the adjusters were the FEMA reps that you’re talking to, they’re not from this area. Some are, but many are not. 

 

“Advocate for yourself as best as you can in terms of knowing what your rights are.  There’s this element where you lack confidence as a survivor, you think that that person knows more than you do and that’s not true.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.

 

So you’re talking to someone in the Midwest somewhere in Ohio, for example, where it is just more affordable to live. So when you’re talking to that person and saying this 15 grand is not enough for temporary housing. For example, if you’re talking to a FEMA rep and they’re like, that’s insane, I could buy a house for 15 grand. So there’s this sort of disconnect and the chance and opportunity that people have to actually utilize the process that they’re going through. So I would say, be very aware of that. For starters, advocate for yourself as best as you can in terms of knowing what your rights are because you don’t deal with insurance prior to this experience most of the time. Or if you do, it’s a small claim because you don’t deal with FEMA prior to this kind of experience most of the time. There’s this element where you become, well, maybe it’s that really you lack confidence as a survivor, you think that that person knows more than you do. And quite frankly, that’s not true.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: That’s the key to having institutional knowledge. This is why I like doing these podcasts because I’m trying to sort of democratize the institutional knowledge of how to recover from a disaster. So it doesn’t require an advanced degree to figure out that normal people go through disasters, and they want to do their best for their community, they want to rebuild their lives. It’s a very long road. And one of the things as we close out the podcast today, I’d really like you to talk about the length of the disaster and how it changes as the years go by that it does take a long time.

 

 “A lot of what civil law is, is about being reasonable. We all agreed to be in this society together and treat each other reasonably. If you feel that they aren’t, and you’re a reasonable person, you’re probably right. ” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.

 

Kendall Jarvis: Absolutely. I think one important thing to add to the last piece of the discussion is that one thing that I always tell clients is that a lot of what civil law is about is reasonable. It’s the fact that we all agree to be in this society together and treat each other reasonably. So if you find yourself as a survivor going through this, or someone who’s helping a survivor go through this. At the end of the day, it is very fair to say, is my insurance adjuster being reasonable? Is this response from FEMA reasonable? Is my contractor being reasonable? If you feel that they aren’t and you’re a reasonable person, you’re probably right, and that probably means they’re not. So there’s generally a way out if you follow that instinct in terms of knowing what is right and wrong. It’s that simple. And that comes up in the contractor piece a lot where the contractors will say, in addition to the insurance of [inaudible], contractors will say, well, the contract I gave you for rebuilding, it was just an estimate, the price could change. And it’s like, that feels unfair. And yet, maybe it says estimate on the top of your rebuild contract. So you’re like, well, is it true? Is it not true? If it feels wrong, it’s probably wrong. And the truth is, generally speaking, people can’t just create new ways to work in a disaster, they’re still required to abide by the law. And sometimes, there are additional protections for that kind of thing. 

 

“If it feels wrong, it’s probably wrong. People can’t create new ways to work in a disaster. They’re still required to abide by the law.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq. 

 

And in terms of trajectory, we still have people from our 2017 fires that are dealing with their insurance companies, we still have people that are dealing with human issues that have come up in the past, we still see price gouging on a frequent basis, though, and add COVID to that. We obviously see a ton of housing issues one way or the other, and it’s difficult to navigate. And I think it’s important to understand that there’s this initial level of support that comes with disaster aid from the outside where people want to donate, they want to help, they want to show up, they want to bring food and supplies. And that’s amazing. But that dwindles relatively quickly. And then you have the secondary level of support, where it’s community based organizations and the local government that are willing. And obviously, the state tension, the federal government that are willing to participate in that, but that also dwindles. FEMA’s time is limited, your right to temporary housing support, or what we call loss of use coverage under your insurance contract is limited in all states. But here, it was limited to 24 months, it’s now been extended potentially to 36 months. But still, that’s a limited amount of time when you have significant competition.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I think in 2017, for those wildfires survivors, it was limited to 12 months. And then like about 10 months, they advocated enough at the state that they got it extended to two years. But it was voluntary, if the insurance companies were willing to do it. Now, for the people who suffered in 2018 in the campfire, for example, they immediately benefited from that change of policy for two years. But I’m glad that it is being reconsidered into 36 months because it really does take a long time when you have that added element of trauma that comes with a magnifier. A lot of people can’t even pick their heads up for a year to even begin to think about returning to that place where they quite frankly almost died. They have to make that decision internally if that’s what they want to do. A lot of them do want to do it, and a lot of people don’t. I was always very respectful of their decision even though I knew in the first year I was often asked, well, what do you think about people who don’t choose to rebuild? I was like, that’s their personal decision, why would you be judgy about such a thing? But anyway, go ahead.

Kendall Jarvis: You bring up a good point. Your insurance contract, at least in California for a homeowner’s fire related insurance policy will say that you have 12 months. If there’s a declared disaster, federally or statewide, it extends to 24. Now, the law has changed and it says you have a minimum of 24 months with a possible extension of 12 additional months. So in theory, you can get 36 months at this point. In general, the insurance commissioner comes out and says, hey, this is really crappy for this community. We really need this help, please do that. And I think that’s what you’re referring to because the insurance company we’re like, okay, we’re not gonna have any questions about this 12 month thing. We all agree that’s what the law is interpreted as in California, which was great. And now, that’s extended further, which is also great, something that our agency definitely advocated for. But it just goes to show that that’s still not long enough. I mean, I think anyone you talk to about insurance would say, that needs to be at least five years. And I think secondarily, they own FEMA, we have the same issue. FEMA supports really here for 18 months, there are potential extensions. But we really significantly advocated for those extensions, and we basically got three additional months, and a lot of communities didn’t get any additional months. 

 

“The more vulnerable you are going in, the harder it is to navigate; the less time you have to make these decisions. And when making these financial decisions up against a very traumatic emotional experience, a lot of people either cannot do it, or they go the opposite way and ignore their mental health.” -Kendall Jarvis Esq.

 

So basically, it goes back to the thing that we started with. The more vulnerable you are going in, the harder it is to navigate, the less time you have to make these decisions. And when you’re making these financial decisions up against a very traumatic emotional experience, though a lot of people either cannot do it, or they go the opposite way, and they ignore their mental health because they feel like they just need to push through and just need to push forward. And it’s one step in time. At a time, one step, whenever you can make one some days, people are going to be able to make great strides. Other days, you’re going to want to stay in bed. And it obviously poses a lot of stress on the family household and family unit. I know, originally, we were also going to talk about the additional vulnerabilities posed by undocumented peoples. But that is a very little conversation.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Let’s take a few minutes to talk about that because that’s actually one of the things that we are advocating for a change at the federal level. Undocumented people do pay taxes, which admit that they don’t, they do contribute, importantly, to our community. And we understand that immigration is another federal issue that must be fixed. But what an opportunity, hopefully, to examine both at the same time because the evidence for the value of people who are undocumented, but have been here for a long time. Or even if they have only been here for a few years, but they’re working and paying taxes, it’s incredibly high. So let’s go into that and finish out. I do want to make sure though that you pause for a moment and give the website of your organization, and if you’re comfortable your email address in case anyone has questions.

Kendall Jarvis: Of course, my email address is [email protected], my telephone number is 707-308-2512, and our website is legalaidsc.com.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Thank you for that. I hate to say it quickly because it’s actually worthy of its own podcasts. But what particular issues do you see come out of your secondary impact or even primarily impacted fire survivors or secondary impacts for undocumented people? What do you see? What do you see coming up?

Kendall Jarvis: Well, as we said, generally speaking, if you go in with a vulnerability, you’re likely to come out more vulnerable than when you went into a disaster, unfortunately. And one thing we really know presents vulnerabilities is being undocumented or considered, quote unquote, unlawfully within the United States. And you see that through basically every element of a disaster, both from a survivorship standpoint, but also from secondary issues that arise. And then you see these sort of tertiary issues like with construction, for example. There’s an opportunity for, I don’t know if we should call them questionable or nefarious, but contractors or builders that want cheaper labor. There’s an opportunity to exploit that population just from a realistic standpoint. So for people that are directly impacted and our undocumented one of the first concerns they have is, do I have insurance? And quite frankly, if you’re undocumented, the less likely it is you’re going to have insurance. Not because you don’t want to have insurance, but because the more paper trail you leave, the more fearful you are of anything that ever comes up. So it is a decision that does not arise from a neutral or equal place for starters. Secondarily, if you have to turn to FEMA, if you’re undocumented, alone and an individual survivor, you don’t qualify unless you’re lawfully in the United States. You can qualify if you have a household member, a member of your household is lawfully in the United States. So for example, that often happens with children. Maybe their parents are undocumented, but they have a child that was born here. So that child is considered lawfully in the United States. They can be a FEMA registrant, they’re eligible that you can be considered as part of the household. 

But one of the problems that we saw is that for starters, people were very, very afraid about the interpretation of what it meant to receive a FEMA benefit. Is that going to jeopardize any future citizenship requests or an existing citizenship request that I have? And secondarily, is FEMA tracking this information? And are they sharing it with anyone? And we ask these questions very early on. And the truth was, FEMA said, we’re not using this to go after anyone, but we are going to keep this information. So all you can do is pay a lawyer to share that. All you can say is, look, yeah, it’s gonna be in some registry somewhere, they don’t have any current intent to follow up or share it with ICE or something like that. But knowing that your financial security, your roof over your head, food in your kid’s mouth is something that is connected with a decision of, do I have to stand on a registry that at some point in time could potentially be used against me and my family? That’s terrifying. I don’t even know how people make that decision. I really don’t. And for that reason, I think there was also a lot of misinformation in terms of the female eligibility where everyone was like, if you’re undocumented, you’re not eligible. And that’s not true assuming you have someone in your household that’s lawfully in the US.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: But that level of fear mixed status is the most common household.

Kendall Jarvis: Yep. And there’s a huge misunderstanding about this issue from people that are not within our community. And quite frankly, probably people that are within our community, where there’s an assumption that people that are undocumented come specifically and only to do certain types of labor, and only during certain seasons. That has not been true in Sonoma County for literally over 50 years. That is something like that. I’m going to get this a little wrong, but it’s something higher than 90%. I think 95, 94% of undocumented people in Sonoma County actually work here all year long. So there was this assumption that, okay, well, we don’t need to help those people because they have somewhere else to go. They don’t have anywhere else to go. There’s nowhere else to go. This is their home. This has been their home for longer than it’s been many people’s home. I mean, this stuff is kind of infuriating, but it’s also difficult to talk about because you don’t want to offend anyone. I can’t identify as undocumented because I was born here.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Totally. I do think it’s really important, though, to bring up that it’s one more inequity and equity is very expensive. It’s an expensive thing to do. It’s a hard thing to do. And it’s a thing that is most possible in communities that are well resourced, and there’s a strange irony to that for sure. But we are well resourced. Napa is well resourced. We did set up alternative systems of care like a docu fund, and La Luz did a lot of work, all of them to replace wages and income. But I do think though, I’m not afraid to say though you can tighten the border, but all you do is make sure that people don’t see their parents in Mexico for 30 years. So if you want to be here, go on about this all day. One of the great injustices and ironies in our current immigration system is it does the opposite of what people who are so biased against immigrants prefer to, it’s just one of those, you’re like, yeah, anyway, we can talk about that all day.

Kendall Jarvis: You bring up a really good point, because the other thing that really gets lost in this conversation is the impact on farmworkers and their families, and how seriously reliant our community is on agriculture and viticulture. And the reality is without that, we’re kind of a broken system that is a huge part of our economic stability. And we see situations where there are farm workers working without any PPE or Personal Protective Equipment or substandard PPE. We know for a fact that because fire season connects with harvest, or crush, that we’re in a situation where farm workers are literally going into evacuation zones to work in an evacuation zone. So in that, smoke near that fire that he does a job that they feel they need to do. We see very few people not show up to those shifts. It is something that is very problematic and not ideal. It’s something that’s going to be difficult to resolve. I don’t think there is one easy solution. If you lose the entire crop of the harvest that obviously has a significant impact on future job abilities, let alone continual job abilities. But at the same time, if the issue continues to sort of be swept under the rug, we’re putting people’s lives in danger.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I do think though, especially during COVID, because we made multiple fires in that I had a lot of conversations with Maureen Cottingham. She’s the head of the Vintners and Growers here in Sonoma Valley. I know that they were very clear with their members and their members were very willing and wanting to protect their workforce. But we all had to come up with an education on what’s the right mask. COVID, of course, everybody knows about masks. But we’ve been dealing with the mask issue in our county and our region for wildfires and what kind of mask since 2017, we had an experienced smoke taint before. So we didn’t know that the learning curve was so vast. I do have to give a lot of credit to Maureen and her team for ensuring that 95% of our farm workers are inoculated against COVID. But this also comes from years of having tough conversations and being very realistic about who the bad actors are, where the opportunities are to fill gaps, and to always hold humanity at the center of it. And I think there’s a lot of us trying to get there, but we can always need to do better.

Kendall Jarvis: I can’t agree more. I honestly think it’s an educational issue. I don’t think it’s a bad actor, good actor issue. I mean, sure, obviously, we said there are bad actors out there. But at the same point in time, I think that it’s really just a disconnect. Like what happens in any situation where someone is vulnerable, where it’s hard for people to come out and say, hey, my mask doesn’t fit. Or I didn’t get enough water, or I feel unsafe because they don’t want to lose their job. And similarly, that’s true. Even if an employer goes directly to a specific person that might be vulnerable and says, are you okay? Can I do anything to help? That person may say, no, I’m totally fine. Everything is awesome. So it’s not this black and white conversation where it’s like, this person did something this person did it. There is an institutionalized reality that is true of any capitalistic system. And unfortunately, ours comes head to head with fire season. And those are things that the only way I think they’re genuinely going to be fixed is to have conversations that are open and honest about them. Because I do agree, I think, as I said in the beginning, or Vintners have been able to, and quite frankly, all of our agriculture and Vintner employees. I mean, maybe not literally 100%, but very large majority of them have been able to maintain jobs on a year round basis. And to put that into perspective, that is unusual. That’s not something that happens in every single state. 

So for a community to be able to provide a consistent living wage to a family household for a 12 month period while it may seem to many people that listen to this, that that is just how it is you have a job or you don’t. Well, it’s not that simple in certain arenas, and the ability of our community of employers in that arena to get together and understand that need and understand the sort of loyalty and consistency, and the importance of that integration I think is incredibly valuable. I just think there’s still room for improvement as there is in me.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: I bought a constant like, I just want one year, I’m not. I’m like I got this set, I’m good. Life will not allow you to do that. My life never allows me to do that. I think I have it going on. That’s all, hey, let me show you how to wrap this up today. But Kendall, I have really valued your work over the years and watching you grow even more and more into the space. I appreciate the type of learning curve that has provided for you. But you step into it long term, and it just doesn’t happen very often. It’s long work, it’s hard work, it’s meaningful, and it matters. And thank you.

Kendall Jarvis: Absolutely. I really appreciate you saying that. I appreciate the work that you’ve done absolutely. I think it’s invaluable too. As our Executive Director Ronit Rubinoof always says, where are the holes in the community? Let’s find them, and let’s fill them. And I think you have a similar mentality. And that is incredibly invaluable, because it is so necessary and unfortunately, not something that we think about until we’re in that hole, or we really need that hole filled. And disasters highlight that, but it exists all the time. So I appreciate that.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Well, that importance of collaborative community led design and recovery. It’s important to have people from the community leave their own community, and our job in After The Fire is to support leaders to help them learn how to help their own community and then to bring in subject matter experts like we’ve done with you before, who can just provide that grounding, so we’re hoping they can skip the line a little bit and that their learning curve isn’t quite is painful.

Kendall Jarvis: Yeah, I think that is very valuable. One thing that we’re trying to push right now is really expanding our training to disaster case managers, other CEO’s and communities that are impacted throughout the West Coast. And it’s been a little challenging, because it’s one of those things that everyone sort of has a different way of responding. But it’s been incredibly valuable to be able to share that knowledge. And I think community organizations like yours have that same goal, and that is the thing I know when stuck happened in Oregon and Washington was like, you were there when I was like, call me anytime you want. I can’t tell you how many people are like, thank you. I didn’t know who to call or what to do.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: And there’ll be more events coming just so you know. I can promise you, because we have 11 states in our charter now. And it’s ambitious, but the problem is huge. So our goal is what are you going to do except for joining hands and trying to wrap ourselves around each other to get through this because that’s the only way we’re going to do it together. I’m going to call an end to this great podcast, and again, this is not legal advice. Please do consult your own legal professional or your local legal aid of any county, but be very grateful to Legal Aid of Sonoma County. Really amazing work over the past always, but it’s never more than the past four years. You guys are just killing it in a good way, and I’m super grateful.

Kendall Jarvis: Thank you so much for having us. We really appreciate it.

Jennifer Gray Thompson: Thank you. Thank you for joining us on the podcast, How  To Disaster. For more information, please visit our website at afterthefireusa.org, and if you liked this video, please hit subscribe.

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