By: Elena Richardson, Grants Program Manager for The Fund for Santa Barbara
From Casa Magazine published February 13th, 2015.
Located in the Northeastern corner of Santa Barbara County, the Cuyama Valley is home to 2,300 residents sparsely dispersed across a thirty-mile geographic area. While this rural, unincorporated community borders Santa Barbara, Ventura, San Luis Obispo, and Kern counties, it lacks a central governmental body, such as a City Council. Due to its unique geographic disposition, the Cuyama Valley has long struggled with a sense of isolation and social fragmentation.
In the Spring of 2014, the Fund for Santa Barbara awarded the Cuyama Valley Family Resource Center (CVFRC) a grant for “Cuyama Planning for the Future”, a project supporting leadership development and community advocacy.
The CVFRC was established in 2000 as the primary provider of social services to the residents of the Cuyama Valley. Lynn Carlisle, Executive Director for CVFRC, said “the resource center deals with the social service needs of its residents.” Carlisle shared that the CVFRC was not set up to handle the systemic issues their community faced. “We didn’t have a structure, framework, or process in which to approach [these big questions] and yet in every conversation they became the biggest topic—water being one of them—all of these things felt like large unsolveables.”
In June 2014, the CVFRC held a Cuyama Stakeholders Summit. They were hoping for thirty attendees and seventy people came. The goal of the summit was to “gather people’s hopes for the Valley and also what keeps them up at night”, says Carlisle. Since then, community members have been meeting monthly, with the support of the Fund for Santa Barbara’s Technical Assistance Program, to help them create a new organization to address long-term issues. From that, the Cuyama Valley Community Association (CVCA) was born.
One of the top issues that the CVCA has identified is groundwater management. As the only western state that does not regulate groundwater pumping, California legislators are working to limit “Wild West” policies with bills that would force regional jurisdictions to play a bigger role in groundwater-pumping oversight.
In 2014, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) released a study indicating that groundwater in the Cuyama Valley is being depleted twice as fast as it naturally recharges.
On January 22nd 2015, the CVCA held a Town Hall Meeting on water in the Cuyama Valley; over one hundred people attended, including all the major growers. “That would have never happened before” shared Carlisle. By creating the CVCA, Cuyama residents are not only finding their voice, but they’re hearing and trusting the voices of their neighbors.
Jan Smith moved to Cuyama Valley in 2008 and shared “I didn’t ever feel there was a central hub in the Valley…now things are happening!” Working with Quail Spring Permaculture, Smith shares “we all have our focus, then we need a break”. Through [the CVCA] Jan and her husband have met “all these wonderful people, and it just seems like good timing to switch from my more focused work to a bigger picture focus”. Paul Chounet, Superintendent for the Cuyama Joint Unified School District moved to Cuyama in 2014 and joined the CVCA out of a sense of responsibility and desire for belonging in his new community.
The CVCA offers a credible voice in the community to participate in a collaborative planning process. Carlisle said that the “CVCA creates a framework that gives us the ability to respond. If it’s not water in five years then it’s something else, and when that issue reaches a tipping point in the community, we’ll have a process to address it.”
For more information, please contact Lynn Carlisle, Executive Director for the Cuyama Valley Family Resource Center at firstname.lastname@example.org or (805) 722-0509 or Martha Yepez, Program Coordinator at email@example.com or (661) 766-2368.