San Mateo County officials call for mental health access

The stigma of getting mental health services in the Asian community needs to be addressed, according to local officials and Asian American leaders who called for more access and services that cater to a wide range of dialects.

However, in the wake of the Monday’s senseless killings of seven farmworkers in Half Moon Bay, officials are committing to focus on gun education and reform. The San Mateo County Asian Pacific Islander Caucus held a press conference at the San Mateo County Center Friday. Wayne Lee, president and executive director for the San Mateo County API Caucus, said he hopes lawmakers will continue to make stricter gun laws and that local government will step in to ensure a path for mental health services through a broader range of languages and dialects. He said he hopes to curb the stigma against mental health services.

“Asians are one of the largest economically challenged groups and they can’t take the time off work for mental health services. It is important to have those services readily available through the county,” Lee said.

State Sen. Josh Becker, D-San Mateo, said the tragic killings in Half Moon Bay shed light on the needs for more gun education and mental health services. For him, it’s important the county ramps up its mental health services and make sure all communities feel welcomed to engage with those types of services. Becker said he is confident that the state’s gun laws are strict and working but the efforts and commitments need to be raised to a higher standard. Part of the effort needs to begin with looking at the processes in buying and storing guns, he said.

Dave Pine, president of the San Mateo County Board of Supervisors, said the county has done a lot of work to keep dangerous and illegal guns off the street and will continue to do more. It is a trying time for the community but it’s a time to reassess and see what can be done better, he said.

In addition to gun safety and mental health, farmworkers, officials expressed concern about living quarters and income disparities.

Half Moon Bay Mayor Deborah Penrose recognized the importance of gun safety, education and mental health services for community members but took the opportunity to acknowledge her own naivety to the situation.

“To me the most important thing we can do is try to look at our culture and understand why there is such a divide between those who have and those who have not,” Penrose said.

Nothing is going to change until we offer people affordable housing and raise wages, she said. However, Penrose said she wasn’t aware that there were Chinese farmworkers in Half Moon Bay.

“When I deal with farm and agricultural workers, I dealt with Latinx, so this is something I need to deal with personally, and our town needs to deal with,” Penrose said. “We need to be more welcoming, more open and more willing to crush those cultural barriers.”

Friday’s press conference comes after Chunli Zhao entered a mushroom farm where he worked in Half Moon Bay on Monday, shot and killed four people and seriously wounded a fifth. He then drove to a nearby farm where he worked previously and killed three more people. He was arrested Monday night and charged with seven counts of murder and one count of attempted murder.

The API Caucus’ mission is to support its community’s elected and appointed officials and advocate for policies that further its goals and aspirations.