Unstable foundation: Union leader says he was fired for starting investigation into Sacramento public housing agency

Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency faces new retaliation claims, tenant safety concerns

Jim Landberg, president of Local 146 Sacramento County California Employees SHRA, says the public housing agency fired him from his maintenance position after he started a union investigation into SHRA’s practices.

Jim Landberg, president of Local 146 Sacramento County California Employees SHRA, says the public housing agency fired him from his maintenance position after he started a union investigation into SHRA’s practices.

Photo by Scott Thomas Anderson

This is an expanded version of a story that ran in the July 20, 2017, issue.

Weeks after a Sacramento Housing and Redevelopment Agency employee claimed she was terminated for whistleblowing, another longtime agency employee is stepping forward with the same accusation.

In June, Laura Cedidla said that SHRA, which controls all public housing in the city and county, fired her for reporting safety threats to tenants and employees. Cedidla shared her concerns with the Sacramento County grand jury, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration and her union, Local 146 Sacramento County California Employees SHRA.

Now, Jim Landberg, president of Local 146 and a former maintenance specialist for SHRA, says he was fired for launching a union investigation into Cedidla’s claims.

Testimony about conditions at SHRA properties was expected two weeks ago in a civil court case involving Cedidla. Residents at three SHRA complexes told SN&R last month that Cedidla was the most competent and responsive SHRA employee they’d encountered. Nevertheless, after Cedidla began speaking out about problems she perceived with SHRA management—ranging from neglected bedbug infestations to the handling of federal documents—management accused the seven-year employee of behaving threateningly toward other employees. In particular, SHRA interpreted a doodle she made during a staff meeting as a bomb threat. The agency filed a restraining order against Cedidla in March and started a termination process.

Cedidla was scheduled to testify against SHRA management in a July 7 court hearing. She showed up to the courthouse with numerous tenants and former employees, only to watch SHRA’s attorneys get the hearing rescheduled for October.

Prior to the restraining order, union president Landberg was among the various officials learning of Cedidla’s claims. Landberg told SN&R that Cedidla was worried the SHRA’s managers might delete alleged evidence of their wrongdoing stored in her work email. Cedidla began forwarding those emails to Landberg, who saved them temporarily on a private email server.

The problem is that Landberg was also an SHRA employee, and three of the emails that Cedidla forwarded reportedly included documents that had what SHRA defines as residents’ “personal information.” Landberg charges that after he started a union investigation into Cedidla’s allegations in February, SHRA terminated his position on the grounds that he violated a tenant privacy policy. He says SHRA maintenance workers such as himself were never trained or advised on that policy.

SHRA Executive Director LaShelle Dozier said she’s barred by county policy from discussing Cedidla or Landberg’s allegations.

Landberg says he’s sure SHRA’s management is thankful for that rule. “The employees who work at SHRA truly work in a terrorized environment,” Landberg said. “And I’m evidence of that. If you call them out, they move to fire you. I’d been a union member for 13 years before I worked for SHRA, and I have never seen anything like this.”

In a June interview with SN&R, Dozier said she strives to foster a safe and professional environment in her agency, emphasizing an open-door policy.

Meanwhile, a number of residents in SHRA’s public housing complexes in Del Paso Heights, North Sacramento and Rio Linda say they have witnessed frequent assaults, thefts, drug dealing and prostitution on the properties. Since SN&R’s report on the troubles (read “Houses of ill repair,” News, June 15, 2017), residents of two more SHRA complexes in Midtown and downtown have come forward to report similar issues.

Gina Hall was one of the early tenants to speak publicly about the problems. According to SHRA hearing transcripts obtained by SN&R, Hall is now being evicted from her apartment on the grounds that she too often called law enforcement, firefighters and Child Protective Services to the Rio Linda complex.

That story rings true for SHRA tenant Janis Fox, who claims she was just reprimanded by SHRA mangers for photographing assaults and drug dealing around her complex on 38th Street. The warning notice SHRA sent Fox does indeed cite her recording neighbors as a potential cause for eviction, though it couches the issue as disturbing the peace.

“I understand why the majority of people stay in their apartments and don’t come out,” Fox said. “It’s because they don’t want to get an eviction notice for standing up for themselves.”

Dozier said she’s barred by law from discussing issues that would explain why Hall is being evicted and Fox is receiving warning letters.

Not all SHRA tenants are unhappy with the agency. Staajabu, who lives at the complex on Redwood Avenue, says she thinks SHRA is being unfairly branded.

“People have complaints all the time because there are a lot of people here,” observed Staajabu, who has one legal name. “I’ve never heard anyone say their complaints haven’t been addressed. … We have meetings for resident association, and SHRA managers and supervisors always attend them. I can go and tell them anything and they’ll take care of it.”

Such commendations offer little comfort to Hall, who’s worried that if free legal services don’t come through she’ll be homeless in a matter of weeks.

“It’s a nightmare,” Hall said. “I keep thinking I’m eventually going to wake up.”