By David M. Greenwald
Davis, CA – It may have been the least well-kept secret in Yolo County. For a long time, it was surmised that Jim Provenza, who has served on the board of Supervisors since 2008, would not seek a fifth term, and that he would tap his Deputy Supervisor Sheila Allen to be his successor.
The two were colleagues on the school board, she then went on to run Alliance for Healthy Aging in Yolo County before last year taking over as Deputy Supervisor when Richard Reed retired.
“When Rich Reed retired from his deputy supervisor position, (Provenza) thought it would be a good idea, since Jim wanted to endorse me, and I wanted to get more experience, that he hired me as his deputy,” Allen explained.
She joked, “I call it my road and ditch tour, because I have a very deep understanding of all the health and human services thing, because that’s where my passion is and where my work has been all these years, but I didn’t know much about roads and ditches.”
She said, “It’s been really a great opportunity to understand more deeply the full depth and breadth of what the county does—which I think not that many people know.”
She explained, when she grew up in Wisconsin, that “we didn’t have much money.” She said, “In a small town, you can usually make do with that. I didn’t realize that we were poor until it came time for me to get a job as a lifeguard.”
She said, “That’s when I discovered that we were poor because I qualified for the low income summer program.”
She came from a family in which nobody went to college, but she ended up going to the University of Wisconsin, and, with Pell Grants, she was able to graduate without any debts from her undergraduate years.
“My family never traveled at all,” she explained. “We went to Iowa once and that was exciting.”
She ended up applying and getting into both the University of Washington and UC San Francisco, “the two best nursing schools in the country.”
She visited them both—going by plane. “I’m like, San Francisco. Holy cow. This is not Wisconsin.”
In the late 1980s, San Francisco was the frontline of the AIDS crisis.
“Really interesting time. That’s true. Learned about the importance of public health and public health messaging,” she explained. In those days, pre-medication, AIDS was a death sentence. “It was San Francisco, New York and Madison that had the first HIV test, and me a little undergraduate was doing the test and telling these handsome young and gay men, you have it, make your arrangements, because you’re probably going to die,” she explained. “It was just terrible.”
Why is Allen now running for County Supervisor?
“Most people might not know that Health and Human Services is a major portion of what the county does,” she said. “Forty-one percent of the budget is health and human services.”
She said, with her PhD in nursing, “I think that I have the experience and they (the county) provide the kind of services that I have a deep knowledge about and want to make sure are the right services to meet the needs in the community.”
Sheila Allen expressed concern for women, children and families in the wake of the pandemic.
“There’s going to be ongoing implications for especially young children as they work through what they missed—academically, but also socially and emotionally,” she said. “I want to make sure as the provider of mental health and other kinds of services for them, that that goes smoothly and is as good as can be possible.”
Those services include things like CalFresh, CalWORKS, WIC, and the like.
She noted that, while the “county provides for mental health,” there’s not sufficient funding to provide for all the needs.
“In theory, people’s health insurance, including if you are on Medi-Cal, is supposed to cover that, but that as everybody knows is really insufficient, and a difficult system to try to navigate,” she said.
She wants to make sure the county does a better job of making sure people are smoothly connected.
Allen added, “In my work with Yola Healthy Aging, the nonprofit that I started, connection to service was a major portion of our scope of work. So I think that it’s not, the county does not have unlimited funds. Everybody knows that. But collaboration costs very little. So if they know about the programs and services where people can get the services that they have, having it not be a crazy and frustrating experience would be good for everybody.”
Sheila Allen also noted that, in 2008, the county dismantled some of their public health programs, including the health department.
She said, “When I was working there, we had an amazing plan in place—for if there ever was a pandemic, here’s what we would do.”
Going forward, “We need to take a strong look at what the structure is there, because it is their job to be prepared.” She said, “That’s what public health is, it is about prevention.”
Sheila Allen noted that when the last census occurred, they did redistricting for Yolo County.
She said, “It used to be that the whole rural area was its own district and they had one supervisor.”
For many years this was Duane Chamberlain.
“The farmers up that way (Capay Valley) like that because they felt that they had a farmer voice on the supervisors,” and she noted that when she met with the Farm Bureau, they were demanding their supervisor back.
However, she explained that the strategy they now used was to divide it up so “that every supervisor has a rural area and has farmland in it. Because now the farmers have five supervisors that all have an interest in it.”
District Four includes most of East Davis, and North Davis, but it also includes the farmland south of Davis all the way to Clarksburg.
Like many, Sheila Allen is worried about housing and homelessness.
She noted that housing needs to be accessible as well as affordable, “because we have to make sure that we have housing that people with disabilities of any age can get into.”
She noted that “low-income housing, even low-income housing for seniors are not required to have an elevator.”
Allen also noted that the Board of Supervisors have current policies such that they are not in favor of rural development.
“The County does not really do work that much with development,” she said. “But when a development is proposed, that is adjacent to the county, there’s an important role for county supervisors to play in negotiations.”
Allen has already rolled out some big time support. In addition to Supervisor Provenza, she also has endorsements from Supervisor Lucas Frerichs, State Senator Bill Dodd, former Senator Lois Wolk, former Assemblywomen Helen Thomson and Mariko Yamada, among many others.