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In Bella Comelo, seniors have a steadfast advocate

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placeholder January 8, 2018   •   VOL. 56, NO. 1   •   Oakland, CA
Senior Living & Resources

Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, and Bella Comelo.

In Bella Comelo, seniors have a steadfast advocate

2017 was a banner year for Bella Comelo. She saw the opening of the PACE — Programs of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly — center in San Leandro, which offers some services that seniors had previously had to seek outside the city limits.

For more than five years, Comelo had advocated for the project, going through many proposed sponsors before the right one came along.

Social Justice Champion
The current Vice Chair of San Leandro's Senior Commission, Bella Comelo was instrumental in bringing the PACE Program to the City. Bella has further distinguished herself in the labor community as a founding member of the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance and former board member of the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, and she helped pass the City's Living Wage and Minimum Wage ordinances and actively participates in the Diocese of Oakland's Ethnic Pastoral Council and FAME.

The Social Justice Champion award for San Leandro presented to Bella Comelo by Assembly member Rob Bonta
"It is near the new Kaiser center in San Leandro," Comelo said. "It will offer adult day care, physiotherapy and room for a clinic," in addition to a lunch room and vans to bring people there.

She described the center, which is run by the Center for Elder Independence, as "modern, up-to-date and elegant."

Add to that: sorely needed.

"There is a need," she said. "Before this project there was no adult care available in San Leandro." Seniors and their families needing those services had to go to Oakland or Hayward.

Comelo is serving her third term as senior commissioner for the city of San Leandro. Her leadership and persistence paid off.

"We all had to agree on which program to do," she said of the commissioners' work.

Then there was the question of budget. "Every time they said, 'We don't have the budget available,' and every time we were getting negative answers," she said, "I kept plodding."

The commission, she said, "kept at it."

With support from the mayor, Supervisor Wilma Chan and the then-council member who had first appointed Comelo to the council, the center to provide services to seniors who wish to continue living in their own homes became a reality.

It wasn't the first time Bella Comelo turned a no into a civic-minded yes.

"For almost a year I went to City Council meetings to get the minimum wage raised to $15 an hour," she said.

In 2022, the minimum wage will be $15 an hour in California.

"We're going to have it in 2020," Comelo said of her city.

The wage issue is a matter of social justice.

"Instead of giving handouts, give dignity to work by raising pay," she said. She noted the many jobs in the city, particularly the warehouses. "Work 40 hours? Give them more so they can live a decent life."

The city's recycling plant has to pay living wage, she said.

"It's a very dirty job," she said. "I think they should be paid for that."

Comelo is a longtime parishioner at Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, on the Marina side of San Leandro, where she has been a lector. She is involved deeply in the Diocese of Oakland's Ethnic Pastoral Center as the representative of the Indian community.

She remembers what it was like to move from India to the United States in 1983. Her husband had to return to India to complete his 30-year career in banking. She and four teenagers were in Oakland.

She recalls her sister's help, which made all the difference at the time. She continues to pay that forward, helping to welcome newcomers.

"I like to help, because I remember what it was like," she said.

The Comelo's four children are all college graduates and professionals.

As a union leader, commissioner and organizer, Bella Comelo brings to the job a determination to help others and sees a path to betterment. Sometimes committees meet around her kitchen table.

Late last year, Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, whose district includes San Leandro, honored Comelo with the Social Justice Champion award for that city. She was among the District 18 heroes and organizations to be recognized at a gathering in Oakland.

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