SANTA CRUZ — The Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors this week voted in favor of two initiatives to better meet the needs of its audience.
First, supervisors allocated $500,000 in grants to Cruzio Internet with the agreement that the company would expand broadband access to underserved populations across the county – an effort that will expand Cruzio’s existing project. Equal Access Santa Cruz County. Equal Access is a collaboration between Cruzio and the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County that provided fast internet access to families in need for up to $15 per month, its website explains.
Next, the council voted to combine the public works and town planning departments with the aim of providing better, more streamlined services to residents. Together, the two divisions will form the Department of Community Development and Infrastructure.
Bridging the gap
When COVID-19 hit, it became clear that there was a digital divide – a divide between households with a reliable internet connection and those without. The disparity was widespread and affected the opportunities residents had to continue learning, living, and working as of March 2020. The harmful circumstance was reduced by actions such as Santa Cruz County Equal Access at the local level and Governor Gavin Newsom’s $6 million allocation. towards improving public broadband access in 2021 at the state level. These are record financial commitments.
While progress has been made, new Information Services Department Director Tony Batalla said in a report to the board on Tuesday that there are still many small areas in the unincorporated county of Santa Cruz without sufficient Internet access. With $500,000 of the county’s American Rescue Plan Act funding and 150% matching from Cruzio, 4,000 new households will benefit from free or low-cost broadband access, the county said in a statement released just after the vote.
In the first rollout, more than 700 needy students and families across the county were connected to reliable internet through 13 service sites. Cruzio kept up the momentum through a merger with San Mateo County internet provider Coastside.Net, a move announced in mid-January.
“Both companies have stood up during fire season, helping mountain lookouts stay connected… We live where we work. We are here for our communities,” the vendors said in a joint statement.
All the supervisors, except Greg Caput, the representative of the 4th district, offered unwavering support for the expansion of the program. Caput said he felt the expansion of equal access, as described by staff, was too fast; the supervisor also felt that there were not enough investigations into the information provided by providers such as Cruzio.
The Caput District, which includes the location of the Pajaro Valley Unified School District schools, benefited from Cruzio’s initial equal access rollout. In fact, the school district was one of the partners in the project.
“Santa Cruz County — while a place where many people thrive — has been a place of persistent gaps in educational opportunity,” Cruzio writes on his Equal Access homepage, citing a Central Coast report. Broadband Consortium. “As state data shows, below-average infrastructure has the greatest impact on low-income families and people of color.”
Cruzio will build 20 points of presence or service sites that will connect single-family home technology to the Cruzio network. Sites include roof mounting, antennas and electronic cabinets. Sites have yet to be selected but could include a range of properties from the Housing Authority, Live Oak School District, PVUSD as well as properties from other participating agencies. At least two venues will be built in Supervisor Bruce McPherson’s 5th District or San Lorenzo Valley. Once the sites have been identified and assessed and the owners have signed a contract with Cruzio, the construction of the points of presence will only take a few weeks, said Cruzio director James Hackett.
As he presented a longstanding theory come true, Deputy County Administrative Officer Matt Machado thanked his colleagues for agreeing to adopt a new format – a combined structure of the public works and construction departments. planning intended to change the dynamic of the fourth floor of the Ocean Street office.
For 50 years, departments worked side by side and found it convenient to be in the same region, even finding opportunities to work together on community development projects. By April, they will work together to staff the main feature of the Department of Community Development and Infrastructure: the Unified Permit Center.
Machado said the permit center will be the main benefit of the upcoming integration. This will allow apps and design teams to visit one place for local requirements, a process that should clear up any confusion.
“The timing of the integration will allow for several important long-range planning initiatives to inform the development of the new department. These include, but are not limited to, the upcoming Corporate Plan Sustainability Update, Housing Component Update, Climate Action Adaptation Strategy, and Closure Plan. landfills,” Machado wrote to the board.
After unanimous board approval, McPherson called the initiative great and said he felt it was a long time coming.
“I think the public will appreciate our efforts to streamline the permitting process as much as they did with CZU Fire Recovery Permit Center,” he said.