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Video: Spotlight on Rural California

sunset at sonoma california patchwork vineyard at harvest


Video: Spotlight on Rural California

Rural California is vast and varied; its strengths and challenges often differ from those in urban parts of the state. At a PPIC event in Sacramento last week, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, president and CEO of PPIC, talked with James Gallagher, Republican leader in the California State Assembly, about important rural issues that the state needs to address; she also spoke with three local and regional leaders in rural areas. The conversations ranged widely—from infrastructure needs to climate policy to public safety—but a key overarching theme had to do with improving rural access to the policymaking process itself.

For Gallagher, who represents Assembly District 3 in the northern Sacramento Valley, state policymaking could benefit from a more regional approach. “There does need to be a difference in governance when we talk about rural areas vs. urban areas, because they are very different,” he said.

Gallagher cited a recent electric school bus law as an example: “In many parts of rural California, very long bus rides need to be taken to get to and from school,” he said. In addition to cost and supply chain issues, he noted that vehicles in rural areas have to be able to cover long distances: “When you talk about the travel distances, it is not feasible—you may even lose charge in many cases.”

Gallagher was not alone in seeing regional policymaking as a way to lift up rural voices—especially in budget years like this one. “I think the biggest piece for our rural communities going into a tough budget year is wanting to be part of the conversation,” said Chris Lopez, a member of Monterey County’s Board of Supervisors and the chair of the Rural County Representatives of California. “Bring us to the table. Make sure we’re part of your solution.”

Lopez also sees intraregional collaboration as key. Pointing to cooperative efforts to set up emergency health care districts and secure funding for internet infrastructure in Monterey County, he said, “I think the collaboration is there. The question is how do we move beyond that? How do you go bigger? How do you do more?”

“We have to think about our state as multiple regions coming together,” said Ashley Swearingen, president and CEO of the Central Valley Community Foundation. But, she added, some regions are more equipped to collaborate across local jurisdictions than others. Her Central San Joaquin Valley region is a unique mix of urban, suburban, and rural, but “we don’t have places outside of one county where folks are called together to learn and collaborate and try to align resources,” she said.

Shannon Grove, a state senator whose district includes Kern, Tulare, and Fresno Counties, noted that as California moves toward sustainable food and energy production, it’s more important than ever for urban and rural areas to recognize their interdependence. “When I meet with my colleagues that represent different areas than I do, it’s interesting to find out what they don’t know,” she said. Her district produces a large share of the food and energy—both fossil-based and renewable—consumed across the state. “We know sustainability,” she said. “Let us do our thing, and we’ll elevate everybody’s prosperity.”


PPIC’s Speaker Series on California’s Future invites thought leaders and changemakers with diverse perspectives to participate critically, constructively, and collaboratively in public conversations. The purpose is to give Californians a better understanding of how our leaders are addressing the challenges facing our state.

PPIC is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization. PPIC does not take or support positions on any ballot measure or on any local, state, or federal legislation, nor does it support, endorse, or oppose any political parties or candidates for public office. Any opinions expressed by event participants are theirs alone and do not necessarily reflect any position of the Public Policy Institute of California.

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