Saturday, 01 October 2022

CLAWS lays off employees, shuts down thrift store

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On Wednesday, the CLAWS board closed the Clearlake thrift store. Photo by Elizabeth Larson.

 

CLEARLAKE – Citing lagging sales and serious building repair issues, the Clear Lake Animal Welfare Society closed down its Clearlake thrift store Wednesday morning and laid off all four of its employees.


CLAWS Board President Laurelee Roark emphasized that CLAWS itself will continue its work on behalf of animals, and that the layoffs and closure were necessary in order to keep the nonprofit's spay-neuter voucher program safe.


Board members Roark, Leslie Woods and Marilyn Ferrante called an emergency 11 a.m. meeting with staff in front of the store, where they made the announcement, handed out final checks and collected keys and CLAWS materials from staff.


Three police officers stood nearby as Roark read a letter to employees explaining the board's decision, which was attributed, in part, to the store running at a $3,000-per-month deficit for the past nine months and building repair issues.


“It's hard to believe you guys are acting in good faith,” Veronica Morgan, one of the employees laid off, said to the board members Wednesday.


The store itself was closed Tuesday after Lisa Pecchenino, the executive director, said they opened the shop that morning to find it flooded with water. Roark and Pecchenino said they were unable to locate the leak.


On June 5, the state division of Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA) sent a letter to CLAWS, notifying them of a complaint involving possible health and safety violations filed with their office.


Employee Veronica Morgan said Wednesday she filed the complaint last month, citing black mold and mushrooms growing out of the building's middle wall; plumbing issues with raw sewage entering the work area; holes in the roof and collapsing walls; extension cords being used as permanent wiring; and rodents and spiders in the building.


An individual who supports the CLAWS employees took the City of Clearlake a copy of the OSHA complaint. City Administrator Dale Neiman confirmed Wednesday that the city had received the OSHA document.


Scott Spivey, the city's chief building inspector, said he and Senior Code Enforcement Officer Janine Lowe spent an hour at the store Tuesday to see what the situation was.


“We had no intention of red-tagging the place,” Spivey said.


Walking into the building, which is located a few doors down from City Hall, Spivey said, “I smelled mold right away.”


In addition, he and Lowe found a number of different violations and safety issues for the workers.


Neiman said that, because of the seriousness of the health and safety concerns, he directed Code Enforcement staff to contact the county's Environmental Health Department.


“We have an obligation to deal with the problem and I think Environmental Health does, too, so it's best if we coordinate,” Neiman said.


Spivey said OSHA is the lead enforcement agency on this. He added that with CLAWS closing their doors, the problem is over. If the building is sold, the new owners will be responsible for bringing the building up to code, Spivey added.


As to the responsibility for making the repairs, Pecchenino and Roark told contrasting stories. Pecchenino said the board wouldn't let her move ahead with repairs; Roark said they had given Pecchenino instruction to deal with the mold issue, which she said Pecchenino told her was completed.


The Clearlake store's closure follows that of the Lakeport store, which Roark said took place last spring after the landlord doubled their rent to $2,000 a month.


Plans for moving forward


Roark said CLAWS has several plans for moving forward.


First, CLAWS is considering selling or leasing the Clearlake store, which it bought several years ago from Supervisor Ed Robey, said Roark. However, they've made no definite decision.


As to the store's inventory, Roark said the plan is to have a couple of sidewalk sales and liquidate the store's inventory.


On the grant side, she said former board member Myra Wendt has agreed to volunteer time to follow up on the largest grant CLAWS receives.

 

Regarding vouchers, Roark said, “The plan right now is to write vouchers in Lakeport and in Clearlake. Where exactly and when exactly we don't know.”


In addition, CLAWS will have a big dog fix at Wasson Memorial Veterinary Clinic in Lakeport toward the end of August.


The three board members will take on most of the responsibilities formerly covered by employees, but they'll need extra volunteer help, Roark said. They're already receiving calls from people willing to help.


For those wishing to volunteer, calls the CLAWS main number, 994-9505.


Tomorrow, Lake County News will take a look at CLAWS' financials and the rift between the board and employees.


E-mail Elizabeth Larson at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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