As children return to classrooms for the first time in more than a year, Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez is proposing two ideas to help close the structural inequities exacerbating the digital divide.
When schools were required to switch to distance learning, the gap between residents who did and did not have access to internet or digital devices became very clear.
Thousands of children in Santa Clara County from low-income families or those living in rural areas were unable to properly get their schooling, and “many of them are likely to never catch up,” Chavez said in her board referral.
The county allocated $7.1 million in August 2020 to buy laptops and mobile hot-spot devices, which was essential, Chavez said, but were only short-term solutions.
“We still need to address Santa Clara County’s existing structural inequities in internet access,” Chavez wrote.
So, Chavez is advocating for the creation of a digital divide consortium and the implementation of a “Dig Once” policy.
Both these proposals will be voted on by county supervisors at their Tuesday meeting.
“This is an opportunity for us to be proactive, to be assertive, and to be aggressive, in (closing the digital divide),” Chavez said at a Monday news conference.
The consortium Chavez seeks to create would have representatives from local governments, public safety, schools, health care, libraries and other organizations.
The goal would be to put the county in a better position to apply and receive federal and state funding to address internet inequity.
Chavez also noted that creating a consortium eligible for the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) Rural and Urban Regional Broadband Consortia Account, a state consortium grant program that provides funding to promote broadband deployment in underserved or unserved areas, would also help the county receive additional funding.
Currently, Santa Clara County is one of four counties in the state that does not, or has never had such a consortium.
And Chavez said it has resulted in the county missing out on a lot of much needed funding.
Counties with consortiums that applied for funding from CASF received $900,000 in two grants in the 2020 and $3.8 million in nine grants in 2019, according to Chavez’s board referral.
“One of the bills that’s in front of the California legislature right now is $8 billion in resources, and at a federal level, as part of the infrastructure bill, there are billions more (in funding being considered),” Chavez said. “So really, this is an opportunity for us to be prepared to receive millions and millions of dollars.”
The other part of Chavez’s proposal is to enact the “dig once” policy.
Essentially, this policy would allow the county to take advantage of existing infrastructure projects on county expressways, roads and other facilities to install broadband conduits capable of supporting fiber optic communication cables.
“It wouldn’t force anybody to build, it would really just make sure that we’re digging once,” Chavez said.
The “dig once” policy was first enacted in Utah in 1999 and had great results, Chavez said.
The Utah Department of Transportation had an estimated cost saving of 15.5 percent per mile when conduit and fiber were installed concurrently with road constructions, instead of installing them at a later date, according to her board referral.
The policy was later adopted by 11 states and in California cities like San Francisco and Brentwood.
The Contra Costa County city of Brentwood enacted the “dig once” policy in 1999 as well and it has since laid about 150 miles of conduit, connecting more than 8,000 homes, Chavez noted.
If passed by the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday, it would direct county staff to come back with different ideas on how to make these proposals a reality by June 22, 2021.
Those interested can participate in the meeting via Zoom. The meeting will start at 9:30am and can also be watched from the county’s meeting portal or on YouTube.
The pander de jour
I wonder what higher office Cindy is running for? Have you and Person Ellenberg had a falling out? Why didn’t you cut Person Ellenberg in on this pander?
“Thousands of children in Santa Clara County from low-income families or those living in rural areas were unable to properly get their schooling, and “many of them are likely to never catch up,” Chavez said in her board referral.”
So true. Same comment is valid for the middle class. You’re unwittingly arguing for your removal from office Cindy for abandoning your position in March of 2020 last year by allowing Ms. Cody to heartlessly and fruitlessly destroy millions of businesses, lives and allowing her to inflict despair and depression upon a generation of kids who haven’t had any interaction with any of their friends for over a year. Talk to some kids and you’ll see just how devastating the damage to our society is that you enabled. Now, under your leadership, we’re asking the kids to wear leaky masks for 8 hours straight in school and to stay within a plexiglass cage all day further isolated from friends even when they’re in the same room. How sad for Santa Clara County that you’re a supervisor. Why are you coming back now after a year in hiding?
If Cindy Chavez and other County Supervisors are looking for inspiration and ideas from other counties near and far, why not start with San Francisco. Rather than deal with houselessness through a bond repaid through relatively regressive property taxes that also enriches wealthy lenders and Wall Street banks (e.g. Measure A of 2016 https://www.sccgov.org/sites/scc/Pages/Affordable-Housing-Bond-Measure-A.aspx), San Franciscans passed Proposition C (2018), a 0.5% tax on business revenues above $50 million that has yielded and will continue to yield at least $300 million per year into the future and is also dedicated to expanding affordable housing (https://missionlocal.org/2020/06/court-of-appeal-sides-with-san-francisco-on-prop-c-city-on-cusp-of-unlocking-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars-for-homeless-services/; https://www.bizjournals.com/sanfrancisco/news/2020/07/01/court-upholds-s-f-s-prop-c-homelessness-funds.html; https://missionlocal.org/2020/09/prop-c-supreme-court/). Tax the well-off to assist the less well-off, a sensible policy that requires political courage and commitment.
Then there is the May 2020 ballot initiative passed in three metro-Portland, Oregon counties that approved a 1% tax on income above $125,000 per year for individuals and over $200,000 for couples plus a 1% tax on profits from businesses with gross receipts greater than $5 million per year. The new taxes are expected to bring in approximately $250 million per year in additional revenues (even though an estimated 90% of residents and 94% of businesses are exempt from the new tax). The funds will be used to address houselessness (see https://www.seattlepi.com/ local/politics/article/Portland-area-voters-approve-taxing-the-rich-to-15283824.php). Again, taxing the relatively well-off to ameliorate conditions for the those less well-off in a fiscally responsible manner.
Finally, consider the City of Seattle that in July 2020 passed a tax on businesses with more than $7 million in annual payroll outlays, a tax expected to yield some $240 million annually to address houselessness (https://www.cnbc.com/2020/07/07/seattle-passes-payroll-tax-targeting-amazon-and-other-big-businesses.html). Tax the primary beneficiaries of the existing arrangements to help the principal victims of that order.
The character and scale of the above initiatives at least approach those of the issues they are designed to address. They are also fiscally prudent and socially just. If Ms. Chavez and her colleagues were serious about the “digital divide” (or any other issue), they wouldn’t resort to applying for grants from the state or federal government. They would directly impose taxes on the fantastically wealthy households and corporations domiciled in the county to secure the resources needed to address the many inequities that plague the disproportionately Hispanic/Latino and Asian working class and working poor. With such concentrations of income and wealth, very small marginal taxes yield substantial sums (https://patch.com/california/campbell/santa-clara-richest-county-california; https://patch.com/california/sanmateo/tech-titans-top-2020-forbes-billionaire-list; https://sanjosespotlight.com/silicon-valley-leaders-ask-for-help-solving-the-poverty-pandemic/#comment-30579).
That County Supervisors don’t act in bold and serious ways is a testament to the relative degree of political capture or co-optation exercised by wealthy elites here versus that exercised by elites in other predominantly Democratic jurisdictions.