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August 17, 2022

Regional partnership seeks to end digital divide in South Monterey County

Signing ceremony formalizes creation of South Salinas Valley Broadband Authority between Monterey County and King City, Greenfield, Soledad and Gonzales

SALINAS VALLEY — A signing ceremony formalizing the Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) between Monterey County and King City, Greenfield, Soledad and Gonzales to create the South Salinas Valley Broadband Authority took place May 27 in the Gonzales City Council Chambers.

“I’m very excited to finally be at this point, after so much work and dedication has gone into bringing the broadband connectivity to our community,” said Gonzales Mayor Jose Rios, who was joined at the ceremony by other city leaders, including Soledad Mayor Anna Velazquez, Greenfield Mayor Pro Tem Angela Untalon and King City Mayor Mike LeBarre.

The JPA brings the four South Monterey County cities and the County together and allows them to pool resources needed to develop and implement a Community Broadband Network, which will provide affordable and reliable high-speed internet services in the region to end the digital divide.

“It is with much excitement that we gather here today to witness this historic moment, in which we small rural cities no longer feel powerless to address the massive inequities of the broadband in our communities,” Velazquez said. “Today, we gather as one community to highlight how we will bring equity to our rural communities through the formation of the South Salinas Valley Broadband Authority to bring a Community Broadband Network to our residents.”

The formation of this JPA is one of the initiatives of the Salinas Valley Five Cities (SVFC), which is focused on the well-being of the Salinas Valley and the lives of students, families and the local workforce. Monterey County Supervisor Chris Lopez has been the driving force behind creating the agreement.

Supervisor Chris Lopez speaks about the county working together with the four South Monterey County cities on the Joint Powers Agreement to create the South Salinas Valley Broadband Authority on May 27. (Courtesy of Chris Lopez)

“We’re here today to move our community forward,” Lopez said. “This community is one of innovation. We’ve seen so many wonderful things happen in the Salinas Valley over the last 100 years — innovations like irrigation, making sure that we’re feeding the world, producing even more on less — and today we’re talking about our communities coming together to do even more for the people who live and work in the Salinas Valley.”

Lopez’s leadership at Rural County Representatives of California and Golden State Connect Authority was instrumental in establishing partnerships with these organizations, which will work closely with the JPA to design, fund and develop the Community Broadband Network. 

“We’ve heard so much about the pandemic’s challenges, that it (prevented) our communities from access to these services,” Lopez said about the often limited services available for rural areas. “Rather than wait for someone else to solve our problems, our communities are coming together — and not just the cities, we’ve got partners from Sacramento and local economic drivers that are helping us make these changes.”

Monterey County Supervisor Chris Lopez signs the Joint Powers Agreement to create the South Salinas Valley Broadband Authority on May 27. (Courtesy of Chris Lopez)

Other key partners and collaborators include Hartnell College, Monterey County Office of Education and Monterey Bay Economic Partnership (MBEP).

“Monterey Bay Economic Partnership believes that high-speed broadband is an essential service in today’s society and should be accessible and affordable for all residents in the Monterey Bay region as we strive toward healthy communities and inclusive economies,” said MBEP President and CEO Tahra Goraya. “Our organization has long worked to bring solutions that can close the digital divide and we are proud to be a partner in moving this collaboration forward.”

Patterned after several local JPAs, the new agreement has the specific goal of delivering open-access municipal broadband to all residents within the South Salinas Valley Broadband Authority’s jurisdiction. The model calls for the full buildout of a Community Broadband Network for South Monterey County that would be overseen and coordinated by the JPA.

“Without access, the internet is useless. The issues related to lack of access were prominently displayed during the Covid-19 emergency of 2020 and 2021,” Untalon said on behalf of Greenfield Mayor Lance Walker, who provided a statement. “A lack of affordable, adequate and accessible internet became a huge issue for all residents of Greenfield, young and old alike. … This agreement, along with the work that will be completed under its umbrella, will finally address the digital divide that South Monterey County has experienced.”

Greenfield Mayor Pro Tem Angela Untalon (from left), Soledad Mayor Anna Velazquez and King City Mayor Mike LeBarre sign the Joint Powers Agreement to create the South Salinas Valley Broadband Authority on May 27. (Courtesy of Anna Velazquez)

The JPA establishes the governance foundation that will coordinate development of the framework, establish the geographic area, invite collaboration and economies of scale, and most importantly, apply the equity lens needed to put forward compelling and competitive funding applications resulting in the ability to deliver broadband for all in Salinas Valley. 

“This is what a team looks like that wants to make sure that no child is denied an opportunity to have access to the internet,” LeBarre said. “We all know how important that is to our futures. We do so much of our work, so much of our research on the internet, (but) the kids in South County didn’t have that opportunity, and the limited access they did have was throttled down. For me, this is all about kids and their future and their ability to compete in the global market. For them to access those resources that will make them excel in whatever field they choose to do, whatever their passion is, the internet is that gateway for them to get to their dreams.”

Partnering with RCRC and GSCA will provide the JPA access to technical assistance and financing sources necessary to deploy an open-access municipal broadband network. Initial funding for administrative support of the JPA will be provided by its members. 

Each of the four cities and the County have approved annual contributions of $25,000 for three years.

“Access is coming, and this is how it happens and why it happens because communities spoke up and said we need it,” Lopez said. “The world is going to change, and it’s going to start here. We’re the first of many in California that will eventually make these changes, but once again the Salinas Valley will innovate and be at the leading edge.”

Ryan Cronk
Ryan Cronk is the managing editor for King City Rustler and Salinas Valley Tribune, a unified publication of Greenfield News, Soledad Bee and Gonzales Tribune. He covers general news for South Monterey County and the surrounding communities.
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