USDA distance learning and telemedicine Project

school, health clinic and community center resources

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Rural Communities
Distance Learning and Telemedicine Project
Sponsored by the USDA Rural Utilities Service

Cuyama Valley

The Cuyama Valley is a remote rural area with a population of 1,120. It is situated along Highway 166, over an hour and a half drive from the nearest city in its County. The Valley is the home of large ranches and small scale farming, has a fire department with trained medics, and recreation district with the main public meeting hall, a library open part time, a health clinic open one afternoon a week for preventative medicine, a high school, a middle school, and an elementary school. The landscape is similar to other rural California area - rolling hills green in Spring and golden in summer, dotted by gnarled old oak trees, with water sources scattered infrequently in the arroyos of the hills that feed into the small Cuyama River.

Technology Challenge

Cuyama faces serious technology access problems in that the telephone provider is unwilling to establish the more affordable frame relay digital circuit service to the Valley as there is not a large enough population base to make it profitable. The only Internet access in the Valley at the time of the RAIN DLT Projectís start is a 56k digital line into the high school that costs nearly twice per month what a T-1 line in an urban area ( 25 times the capacity ) would cost.

There is an outstanding need to assist the community in developing local dial Internet access.

Political Representation Challenge

The Cuyama Valley is an unincorporated area of Santa Barbara County, and therefore does not have City status - which means no elected officials or tax-based infrastructure; it is entirely dependent on the County for infrastructure services. Given that Cuyama is on the eastern side of the San Rafael Mountain Range, it is geographically extremely removed from the cities and government centers that allocate funds for its infrastructure.

There is an outstanding need to help the community develop a stronger voice in the democratic process.

Health Care Challenge

Cuyama has one medical clinic facility that is open one afternoon a week, staffed by a physicianís assistant and nurse practitioner who must drive over three hours round trip to provide service for the one afternoon a week. At one time the clinic was opened five full days a week with a local physician under federal rural clinic funding, but when that funding ended, the physician moved out of the area. The County Health Department has reported that if they were able to fund funding to keep the doors open, the would see 12-16 patients a day which is sufficient demand to warrant the additional hours, but funding is not available in the foreseeable future.

The County Health Department is very interested in exploring telemedicine opportunities as a solution to the severely underserved rural health care challenge.


It is interesting to note that before the arrival of European settlers, the area of New Cuyama was inhabited by Native Americans who were culturally and politically associated with the Chumash coastal tribes on the other side of the mountains that divide Cuyama from the inland coastal valleys and shoreline area. The area is the site of noted Native American rock art paintings, and the early European settlers reported on the presence of small villages along the Cuyama River. While it would appear geographically that the Cuyama Valley would have been inhabited by tribes related to the Central Valley of California, this was not the case.

So, in historic, as well as prehistoric, times, the Cuyama Valley has been tied culturally and politically to the coastal areas of Santa Barbara County.

When the Valley was settled by Europeans in the 1800s, they established large ranchos for cattle and horse breeding. Today the largest ranches that remain are held by both Anglo American and Mexican American owners, and the residents that work on these ranchos are primarily Spanish speaking Mexican immigrants or migrant workers. There is no industry in the area, and there is a need to develop telecommuting and home based business opportunities for youth and families.