The Barbed Wire - December 18, 2020

December 18, 2020
California Broadband Council Approves Action Plan
Bill of the Week: SB 55 (Stern) - Development Prohibition in State Responsibility Area Lands
Hometown California New Episode- RCRC Speaks with UC President Drake About COVID Vaccine, Broadband, Agriculture, and More
Coronavirus Relief Negotiations Update
Broadband Projects in Colusa and Plumas Counties awarded $11 million
Newly Nominated Department of Transportation Secretary Buttigieg on Vehicle Miles Traveled
Senate Votes on Feinstein Bill to Expand Marijuana Research

California Broadband Council Approves Action Plan

On Thursday, the California Broadband Council (Council) approved the final draft of its Broadband for All Action Plan (Plan), which broadly outlines the State’s strategy to bridge the digital divide. The Plan highlights numerous challenges to statewide adoption of high-speed internet connectivity, such as availability, affordability, and access to appropriate devices. Specific actions set forth in the Plan include:

  • modernizing the state broadband definition to conform to the federal standard of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, with a goal of 100/20 Mbps;
  • improving existing state and local processes to expedite deployment;
  • identifying alternative broadband infrastructure financing opportunities; and,
  • setting reliability standards for critical infrastructure.

The Council directed staff to make several minor modifications to the Plan before publicly releasing the final document at the end of the month.  The Plan will be reviewed periodically by the Council and updated as necessary.

The Governor issued Executive Order N-73-20 in August, which directed the Council to create a new state broadband action plan outlining how the state could accelerate broadband deployment and adoption. RCRC provided comments to the Council during the Plan drafting process, and encouraged the Council to prioritize open access projects, require connectivity speeds of 100 Mbps symmetrical, and allow municipal broadband to receive equal consideration for state funding. RCRC’s comment letter can be found here. For further information, contact Tracy Rhine at

Bill of the Week: SB 55 (Stern) - Development Prohibition in State Responsibility Area Lands

On the first day of the 2021-2022 Legislative session, Senator Henry Stern (D-Calabasas), introduced Senate Bill 55, which would prohibit all commercial and residential development in Very High Fire Hazards Severity Zones (VHFHSZ) and State Responsibility Areas (SRA).  This measure is identical to the unsuccessful SB 474, a last-minute effort by Senator Stern which RCRC strongly opposed in the previous legislative session.

While RCRC supports the underlying goal of mitigating the loss of life and property in high fire prone areas, SB 55 will ban anything from a simple Christmas tree farm in one area of the state to a new restaurant in another. Depriving individual property owners of the ability to utilize land or engage in legitimate business also presents potential “takings” challenges, adding associated costs, not only for the affected individual, but to taxpayers of the state. Meanwhile, California continues to struggle with a housing shortage, especially homes affordable to those with low and very-low incomes.  In addition, the increased loss of life and structural damage caused by California’s recent wildfires have caused reconsideration of housing development in fire-prone areas and the further winnowing of available lands for development. RCRC believes that these challenges require a holistic, equitable, and reasonable policy solution – something that is lacking in SB 55.

RCRC’s letter of opposition can be accessed here. This legislation will be eligible for action January 7, 2021; however, it is not anticipated this bill will be set for hearing before March. For more information, contact Tracy Rhine, RCRC Legislative Advocate at (916) 447-4806 or

Hometown California New Episode- RCRC Speaks with UC President Drake About COVID Vaccine, Broadband, Agriculture, and More

In the newest episode of Hometown California, RCRC Vice President for Governmental Affairs, Paul A. Smith, speaks with the Dr. Michael V. Drake, the 21st President of the University of California about the intersection of the UC and rural communities of the Golden State.  (Download now)

For many rural communities, the significance of the UC goes beyond the education, licensing, and credentialing it provides. Partnerships between the UC and rural communities have a considerable impact as well.  One of the most important UC programs involved in rural communities is the Agriculture and Natural Resources (UCANR) Cooperative Extension.  Listen in, as Paul and Dr. Drake discuss the funding and the future of that program as well as other topics such as enrollment trends, distance learning/broadband deployment and how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the University as a whole.

This is the final episode in our 2020 season, but stay tuned…Hometown California will return in 2021 with all new episodes! Over the holidays, we hope you enjoy listening to previous episodes, and share Hometown California with your constituents, friends, and family. Help RCRC tell the rural story in our communities and beyond.  Find all the episodes and subscribe through your favorite listening app right here.

Check out these helpful links to learn more about the University of California and get connected:
•    UC Homepage
•    UCANR Cooperative Extension

Coronavirus Relief Negotiations Update

Earlier this week, a bipartisan/bicameral group of lawmakers unveiled the details of their $908 billion coronavirus (COVID-19) relief package.  The package contains two separate bills – one which outlined approximately $750 billion of relatively non-controversial pandemic relief spending; the second contained a controversial $160 billion plan to provide state and local aid along with liability protections for businesses that remain open during the pandemic.  However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) said he supported dropping the "two most contentious items for the moment" — liability protections and aid to state and local governments — that have stalled negotiations and prevented Congress from passing any meaningful COVID-19 legislation since March.  "We all know that the new Administration is going to be asking for yet another package. It's not like we won't have another opportunity to debate the merits of liability reform and of state and local government in the very near future," Majority Leader McConnell said.  At the time of this writing, it appears that the state and local aid/business liability protections will not move forward before the new 117th Congress is sworn in the first days of January.  Passage of the primary relief bill remains difficult but doable before the end of the year as it is caught-up in the complex process of completing an overall federal spending plan for the 2021 fiscal year.

Broadband Projects in Colusa and Plumas Counties awarded $11 million

On Thursday, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) awarded over $11 million in high-speed broadband infrastructure grants from the California Advanced Services Fund (CASF) to project awardees in rural counties.  The CASF provides financial grants, funded by customer surcharges, to qualified service providers for broadband service in unserved or underserved areas.  Collectively, these grants will service 740 unserved households in Colusa and Plumas counties, as well as a new housing project in the City of Santa Rosa.  The CPUC press release is available here.  RCRC remains actively engaged in legislative and regulatory efforts for broadband access and infrastructure in rural communities.  For more information, please contact Tracy Rhine at

Newly Nominated Department of Transportation Secretary Buttigieg on Vehicle Miles Traveled

On Tuesday, President-Elect Biden announced his intent to nominate former South Bend, Indiana Mayor and Democratic Presidential Candidate Pete Buttigieg to be the Secretary of Transportation.  At the Department of Transportation, Buttigieg will oversee a budget of about $90 billion — including about $22 billion in discretionary dollars — and manage a staff of about 55,000.  Buttigieg was one of the few 2020 presidential contenders to endorse a proposal of transitioning from the current Highway Trust Fund, which is paid for through the gas tax, to a “vehicle miles traveled” alternative that would tax drivers based on their road mileage.  The current gas tax was last increased in 1993 under President Bill Clinton and since 2008, Congress has sustained highway spending by transferring over $140 billion of general revenues to the fund.  While Buttigieg’s plan calls for the eventual transition away from the current gas tax system, his plan also calls for a $165 billion infusion of federal dollars to keep the highway system solvent through 2029 while the conversion occurred.

Senate Votes on Feinstein Bill to Expand Marijuana Research

On Tuesday, the U.S. Senate passed the Cannabidiol and Marihuana Research Expansion Act by unanimous consent.  The bill, introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein, would require the Department of Justice to increase the number of researchers allowed to study marijuana and the quantity of marijuana that is produced for research. Currently, it is very difficult for scientists to accurately study the effects of marijuana because only one facility — the University of Mississippi — is legally allowed to grow marijuana for scientific research.  With both chambers heavily invested in passing a number of cumbersome pieces of legislation before the end of the year, it remains unclear if the House of representatives will take up the Senate’s bill.  It should be noted that last week, the House passed a measure to decriminalize cannabis at the federal level.  That measure is not expected to be considered in the Senate in the closing days of the 116th Congress.
Click here for the bill text, here for a one-page summary of the bill’s provisions, and here for a list of organizations that have endorsed the bill.


Announcements regarding hearings, grants, and public comment notices of importance to California's rural counties.


Online Tool Connects Residents in High Risk Areas with a Pathway to Home Insurance

As a result of the work of the California Tree Mortality Task Force, in 2018, the California Insurance Commissioner issued a report containing recommendations to address homeowners’ insurance cancellations and non-renewals in tree mortality and other high fire risk areas. The report identified Yapacopia, a public benefit corporation, as the provider of a free online service connecting homeowners in high risk areas—even those who have been denied previously— with insurers, insurance agents, and brokers. The MatchUP Insurance Finder connects county residents with insurance providers quickly. A unique webpage has been created for each county, providing information, links, and useful tools. In addition, Yapacopia will provide a webinar for any county to discuss wildfire preparation and recovery, and insurance issues. More information about Yapacopia and the MatchUP Insurance Finder is available here.


Workshop Registration is Open For 2021 Off-Highway Vehicle Grants and Cooperative Agreements

Mark your calendars for upcoming grant opportunities for local governments and other entities to manage off-highway vehicle recreation.  On January 6-7, 2021, a virtual workshop will be held to offer technical assistance on applying for and/or learning about projects.  These grant dollars support planning, acquisition, development, maintenance, administration, operation, enforcement, restoration, and conservation of trails, trailheads, areas, and other facilities associated with the use of off-highway motor vehicles, and programs involving off-highway motor vehicle safety or education.  Applications are due March 1, 2021 and will be awarded mid-summer 2021. For more information and how to register, see here


DWR Competitive Grants for COD Basins- Submission Deadline: January 8, 2021

The Department of Water Resources (DWR) released the final Proposition 68 Implementation Proposal Solicitation Package for the Sustainable Groundwater Management Grant Program. The program will award $26 million to critically overdrafted groundwater basins for Sustainable Groundwater Management Act (SGMA) implementation projects that address drought and groundwater challenges, groundwater recharge projects, or projects that prevent or clean up contaminated groundwater used for drinking water. Round 1 grant applications must be submitted using DWR’s online submittal tool and will be accepted through January 8, 2021. A Round 2 solicitation is expected to open in Spring 2022, and will offer at least $77 million in additional grants for medium priority, high priority, and critically overdrafted basins. For more information visit the Grants and Loans webpage, or email


GO-Biz Announces Cannabis Equity Grants Available for Local Jurisdictions

The Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development (GO-Biz) has announced $15 million is available in Fiscal Year 2020-21 for cities and counties to promote equity and eliminate barriers to populations and communities that were disproportionately harmed by cannabis prohibition.  Local Jurisdictions may be awarded up to $75,000 for assistance on cannabis equity program development, or up to $5 million in assistance for cannabis equity program applicants and licensees to gain entry to the state’s regulated cannabis marketplace.  Grant applications must be submitted by February 1, 2021.  Grants will be awarded no later than May 14, 2021. For more information on this grant and how to apply, see here.


California Water Commission Water Conveyance Public Workshops

The California Water Commission is conducting a series of public workshops as part of its efforts to assess a potential state role in financing conveyance projects that could help meet needs in a changing climate. The Commission encourages broad participation, with the goal of learning from diverse voices across the state. Workshops have already occurred for Southeastern California and Southern California have already.  For more information, visit the Programs and Topics page.

Workshop Schedule

All workshops are from 2:45-5 p.m. (entry to meeting site opens at 2:30 p.m.) 

Northern California – Tuesday, January 12, 2021 (register now)

Central California – Tuesday, January 26, 2021 (register now)


Public Comment Open for Madera Groundwater Sustainability Plans

Four groundwater sustainability plans (GSPs) for the Madera subbasin are online at DWR’s SGMA Portal and are open for public comment through December 23, 2020.

Public comments on the GSPs are welcomed and encouraged – a SGMA Portal account is not necessary.  Information about how to comment on a plan can be found in a fact sheet in English and Spanish.

For questions, email


USDA Launches AskUSDA to Improve and Streamline Customer Experience

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has launched AskUSDA, a centralized contact center that offers customer service and consistent information for the public. If you are looking for USDA information, the AskUSDA site makes it easy, providing information from across the organization all in one place. With a unified search function that provides the top 10 results from across the USDA, and access to live chat agents on weekdays between 10:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. EST, AskUSDA assures that farmers, researchers, travelers, parents, and more have efficient access to the information and resources they need. Representatives are also available by phone on weekdays between the hours of 9:00 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. at (833) ONE-USDA. Inquiries can also be sent via email at any time to


Resource pages, deadline extensions, and available programs to assist communities impacted by COVID-19.


DWR Provides Tips for Holding Online Meetings to Address Groundwater Sustainability Plans

As Groundwater Sustainability Plans are being developed to meet the January 2022 deadline, several counties (and water agencies) have asked for advice for engaging stakeholders and interested parties through online resources.  In response to community interest, the Department of Water Resources (DWR) Sustainable Groundwater Management Office has put together examples, tips, and tactics to consider. The DWR tips are available here.


Coronavirus Relief Available from the Small Business Administration

The federal Small Business Administration (SBA) is offering several coronavirus relief options to help alleviate the financial hardships resulting from the coronavirus (COVID-19). The programs have received an overwhelming number of applications from businesses, so be sure to check the SBA website for the latest updates on the status of these programs.

  • The Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) provides loan forgiveness for retaining employees by temporarily expanding the traditional SBA 7(a) loan program. After initial funding was quickly depleted, the program received an infusion of an additional $310 billion, allowing the SBA to resume the program on April 27, 2020. Be sure to check the SBA website for the most recent information on the application process and availability of funds.
  • The Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) Emergency Advance provides up to $10,000 of economic relief to businesses that are currently experiencing temporary difficulties.
  • SBA Express Bridge Loans can be used to bridge the gap for businesses while applying for a direct SBA Economic Injury Disaster Loan; small businesses who currently have a business relationship with an SBA Express Lender to access up to $25,000 quickly.
  • SBA Debt Relief provides a financial reprieve to small businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.

If you are interested in programs for other disasters, the SBA Disaster Loan Assistance portal is available here.


Economic Development Resources for Communities and Businesses Impacted by the Coronavirus

The California Association for Local Economic Development (CALED) has assembled resources for communities and business impacted by the coronavirus (COVID-19). The page will be continually evolving as new resources become available. To go directly to the CALED resources, click here.


Use of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) Funds for Infectious Disease Response

Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds may be used for a range of eligible activities that prevent and respond to the spread of infectious diseases such as the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Check out the Quick Guide to CDBG Eligible Activities to Support Infectious Disease Response for guidance and additional information.


Coronavirus (COVID-19) County Resource Page Available

The California State Association of Counties (CSAC), RCRC’s local government partner, continues to provide excellent up-to-date state and federal information to counties on this ever-changing pandemic event.  We encourage visiting CSAC’s COVID-19 resource page, which contains vital links to all CSAC COVID-19 advocacy letters and resources.  CSAC’s staff continues to work around the clock to update activities so that all of California’s counties can remain properly informed.