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Volume 54, Number 3 Summer 2021
Edited by Vernita Perkins, Omnigi Research
Edited by Vernita Perkins, Omnigi Research
Each quarter, we will continue to introduce members of the ECIG, so readers can learn more about our members and explore opportunities for research and practice collaborations.
I discovered Community Psychology and joined SCRA last summer. Pre-college, I spent many years actively engaged in community advocacy and was a liaison and representative for families in a high-crime neighborhood. I continued to be actively involved in leadership roles when I began my college journey in 2013, but surprisingly, faculty and textbooks made no mention of this field. I am currently exploring my options for a PhD program, and developing a low-maintenance intervention for K-12 teachers, staff, and administrators to remove systemically oppressive barriers for children who come from backgrounds of chronic low-income/poverty, adversity, and trauma.
Written by Christopher D. Nettles, Tendai Buddhist Institute, Jordan Tackett, student, and Vernita Perkins, Omnigi Research
Last quarter, our ECIG column examined digital insufficiency in rural and marginalized communities (Tackett, Nettles, & Perkins, 2021). We explored the challenges we all ultimately face regarding experiences of insufficiency and disparities in internet service, internet access, technological devices, and user capability. We acknowledged the growing awareness of the dependency on workplace and/or institutional digital sufficiency prior to the pandemic, and now the frustrations so many face with the lack of all levels of digital access as so many people navigate use in changing environments. This quarter, we want to continue the conversation, examining and exploring personal narratives on digital access.
Working from Home
A year ago from the writing of this article, many cities in the United States were mandated to self-quarantine and shelter in place. The carceral term lockdown (which we discourage using) is inaccurate, because although the mandates were imposed, most of us were able to leave our quarantine, unlike incarcerated individuals, even though there were not many places to go besides grocery stores, gas stations, and hospitals. This situation forced many of us, in the confusing panic, to use whatever laptops or desktops we had at home, and to scramble to set up appropriate workspaces to accommodate the work-from-home expectations. Some companies and corporations in knowledge and virtual service industries found ways to quickly accommodate their employees, but industries that directly served the public found their service and product delivery instantly abbreviated, with no clear information about how to proceed. Coauthor Vernita Perkins found increasing empathy for those employees who lost their jobs or were left frustrated. Why, in a society that already had a growing number of people who telecommuted, was the infrastructure virtually non-existent and digital capabilities lacking? For corporations, there is a bottom line that dictates not expending funds without a proven record of need. We hope corporations will learn from this pandemic and make greater efforts to be inclusive, supportive, and considerate of their most valuable resource, their employees.
The Cobb Mountain Area
Cobb, California is a small, mountain community in Northern California about a two-hour drive from San Francisco, located on the ancestral lands of the Wappo, Pomo & Lake Miwok people. Coauthor Christopher Nettles lives in Cobb, serves on the municipal council, and is intimately familiar with the strengths and challenges faced by the community. One such challenge is access to broadband. According to California Public Utilities data included with the U.S. Census statistics, between 20% and 40% of Cobb households do not have a broadband subscription (U.S. Census Bureau, 2020). To understand this issue, it helps to have a portrait of the community.
The Cobb Mountain community sits nestled into the slopes of the California Mayacamas range, a mountain range that stretches across 50 miles of Mendocino, Napa, Sonoma and Lake Counties. At 4,731 feet, Cobb Mountain is the highest peak in the range, tall enough to occasionally receive snow. There are four other mountains within the Cobb area: Mount Hanna is at 4,003 feet, Seigler Mountain at 3,680 feet, and Boggs Mountain at 3,750 feet (home to a “State Demonstration Forest”). While the landscape is in flux due to climate change, in the past, these steep mountains were covered by dense mixed conifer and hardwood forests, that included oak woodlands, meadows, vernal pools, and creek bottomed canyons. The four peaks define the local ecology and geography, dividing the community into well-defined, but semi-isolated neighborhoods.
The Indigenous Peoples
The Cobb area has been inhabited for over 11,800 years by the Pomo, Wappo, and Miwok people. Cobb Mountain marked a prominent boundary between at least five linguistically distinct tribal groups, the Northern Wappo, Western Wappo, Eastern Pomo, Southern Pomo, and Lake Miwok. The Wappo tribes generally occupied an area extending south and west of Cobb Mountain down into the Napa Valley. The Lake Miwok people occupied territory east of Cobb Mountain, known as the Seigler Springs area. The Pomo occupied areas north and northwest of the Wappo and Miwok tribes.
The volcanic rocks of the area included sources of valuable obsidian which was used by the inhabitants to manufacture projectile points and cutting tools. The rich habitat and water resources of the Cobb area also supported excellent food sources. Former hunting camps and villages have been found throughout the area. As a boundary area between numerous tribes and a meeting place for them, Cobb Mountain is known to have held special religious and ceremonial significance. Several ceremonial sites on and around Cobb Mountain have been discovered. Today several local tribal groups trace their lineage back through these initial local residents.
The Resort Town
The development of major mercury mining operations in the region around the end of the 19th century led to increased demand for timber resources from Cobb and Boggs Mountains. Access roads to Cobb Valley used to transport milled timber also brought people seeking hunting and recreation.
Cobb mountain and the surrounding area is home to geysers, fumaroles, and hot springs. The arrival of those seeking recreation led to developing the area's mineral springs. By 1885, all major springs in Lake County had been located and developed. With more mineral springs than any other area in the United States and probably in Europe, many thought the area would turn into a major resort destination.
Residential and resort development in the Cobb Mountain area increased in the 1920s. During this early period, the Cobb Mountain area contained several small hamlets where groups of colonizer-settlers set up permanent residence. From the 1930s through the 50s, the resort industry flourished, fed largely by the relative proximity to San Francisco.
Despite the mining, logging and resort industries, the railroads in the late 1800s and the highway system in the 1950s and 60s never made it to Lake County, home of Cobb Mountain. The rim of mountains encircling the county has always been a discouraging obstacle to large-scale transportation investments. Mining operations in the area were largely abandoned by the early 1960s. With the interstate system, much of the resort traffic shifted to Lake Tahoe and Reno, Nevada from the 1960s to present day. These issues led to an economic shift for the next 30 years.
The seismically-powered steam fields in the Mayacamas Range are ideal for generating clean renewable power. While the first geothermal plant was used to provide power to a resort in the 1920s; major development of the 30,000 acre geothermal field expanded dramatically from the 1960s though the early 1990s. Known as The Geysers, it is still the largest complex of geothermal power plants in the world, generating 725 megawatts of electricity--enough energy to power San Francisco. Yet, due to a variety of factors, including automation, there has been a tremendous decrease in employment at The Geysers and almost no additional development since the 1990s.
The slow but steady economic decline in the Cobb Mountain area since the 1990s, resulted in a one-third population decrease over the past decade. According to American Community Survey, the area has a high poverty rate of 16%-18% (U.S. Census Bureau, n.d.). Working age adults represent much of the population decline, making adults 65 and over the fastest growing demographic, which pushed the median age in Cobb to 45 years old, compared to 36 years old statewide. The overall lack of investment in infrastructure projects since the 1990s, left The Geysers as the last major infrastructure investment. The Cobb area was most dramatically impacted by the Valley Fire of 2015, at the time, the State’s most destructive fire in history. Since 2015, over 60% of Lake County has burned during at least 10 major disasters. Aging infrastructure, along with climate change, fueled by multi-year disasters has resulted in depopulation and declining tax revenues for the county, creating an area in significant distress (Huchingson & Scott, 2019).
The devastating 2015 Valley Fire brought the community together in new ways. The Cobb area citizens began organizing around a recovery process in 2016 resulting in the formation of the Cobb Area Council, a municipal advisory board to the Lake County Board of Supervisors. The Council applied for and received a $200K economic development grant in late 2019. Part of the funds from that grant were used to conduct a community wide needs assessment in 2020. The citizens of Cobb identified many of the issues we discussed in the ECIG column last quarter, and determined that access to better high-speed internet is one critical element of the long-term recovery process, and overall community development strategy.
Companies that offer broadband solutions are not willing to invest in the community, largely because of the factors mentioned above. In addition, mountainous landscape combined with recurring fires and wind events make many broadband solutions difficult to implement without significant financial investment, a risk most companies are unwilling to take. Broadband will have to be subsidized or fully funded by money from the state and federal governments as infrastructure investments. The community is in the early stages of determining the next steps for bringing broadband development dollars into the area. These steps are likely to include lobbying state and federal government officials, pursuing public/private partnerships, and strategies for funding broadband demonstration projects.
Coauthor Jordan Tackett shared in the newest data from the Pew Research Center (2021), 90% of Americans in rural areas have access to the internet, up from the 85% in 2019. The other 10% of rural inhabitants have a multitude of reasons for insufficient broadband, and infrastructure is one of them. Unfortunately, this is the case for many residents in the former Maidu territory, northeastern lumber town of Chester, California in Plumas County. Although understandable that some communities cherish the separation from technology, this should be a choice not a circumstance of insufficiency.
While Chester has a population of 2,116 residents, based on information from Data USA (2021), there are many communities outside these borders that make up Plumas County and rely on the single grocery store, the Holiday Market, for all their basic food needs. Plumas County is over 2,000 square miles and is 70% national forest, according to the Plumas County website (Plumas, 2021). This expansive county has varying terrains and fickle weather conditions, making driving between towns at times dangerous.
A two-lane, 15 mile drive to the next largest town of Susanville, with a population of about 15,000 residents (USCB, 2019) is Chester’s alternative access to resources. This 15-mile drive crosses Fredonyer Pass and unpredictably closes due to inclement weather, making Susanville unreachable for mountain dwellers. For residents living between Susanville and Chester in the winter months of late November and early April, access to food and gas can be extremely limited; access to other non-convenience store items is nearly nonexistent.
For Plumas County, which is spread across multiple towns and communities, broadband efficiency would aid in servicing individuals with a myriad of health issues. Last quarter, the ECIG article highlighted the internet insufficiencies in rural and underserved communities around telehealth (Tackett, Nettles, & Perkins, 2021). According to the CDC, the five leading causes of death in the United States are “heart disease, cancer, unintentional injury, chronic lower respiratory disease, and stroke” (CDC, 2020, p. 1). Telehealth communication can provide care to individuals who are unable to reach a specialist, or temporarily until help is available.
Another way telehealth would benefit rural communities is providing more specialized care for mental health treatments. Based on research by the Rural Health Information Hub (2021), some barriers rural residents face when seeking mental health support are: anonymity of care, stigma for receiving care, and access to mental health professionals, among others. Providing these areas with telehealth technology would allow rural residents the peace of mind to seek out mental health support privately thereby decreasing the stigma around mental health, and allowing access to a wider range of professionals who can provide the appropriate care. These improvements are only possible if broadband networks can be expanded to reach rural communities. With the help of local and federal governments, this personal and integral connection can be made to increase our communities life expectancy, decrease the debilitating stigmas around mental health, and ameliorate our neighbors quality of life.
Much of the insufficiencies we addressed in this article are tied to socioeconomic systems and perhaps a lack of other awareness. At times it can seem natural to be self-focused when it comes to technology. The thinking that as long as my internet and mobile devices work, then all is well with the world; but realizing the insufficiencies across the spectrum of location, access, economic resources, digital infrastructure, and device resources gives a deeper glimpse into the complex challenges individuals and communities can face when considering digital insufficiency. So what can we do as community psychologists focused on serving communities, and particularly underserved, under-resourced communities? The first step is being aware of the issues and organizing the community, the second step is clarifying the need in a participatory needs assessment; then lastly, bringing solutions into the community through a variety of means from lobbying policy-makers to government/non-profit/industry partnerships, and more.
For more information, contact: Jordan Tacket, email@example.com.
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