Quick Take:

A new economic analysis found that more than 18,000 jobs can be directly linked to UC Santa Cruz, generating $892.5...

Good Morning! It’s Friday, Feb. 5. It’s going to be another gorgeous sunny day with a high of 64.

We’re waking up this morning to the potential of a March surge in COVID-19 cases, a raucous Rail Trail recap, a debris-flow evacuation debriefing and a UC Santa Cruz professor’s read on how just how badly small businesses have suffered amid the pandemic.

Meanwhile, #ICYMI, there’s some good vaccine news for Sutter Health/PAMF patients 65 and older in Mark Conley’s COVID PM newsletter from last night. Reminder: anyone can sign up free for Mark’s COVID-19 text alerts by texting “Covid” to (831) 508-7524.

It’s also your last chance to sign up for our special live event today with the Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce, during which our Isa Cueto and Chris Fusco will be interviewing the mayors of Capitola, Santa Cruz, Scotts Valley and Watsonville.

Here we go:

Rail on coastal corridor takes next step by 9-3 vote, but cost questions take center stage, too

Satellite view of the rail corridor in Santa Cruz County.
READ THE STORY: Credit: Santa Cruz County Regional Transportation Commission

Santa Cruz County’s long-debated Rail Trail project will stay on track for now, taking another step forward yesterday as the Regional Transportation Commission approved a staff recommendation that passenger trains should someday run along a coastal corridor adjacent to a recreation path. During an at-times chaotic and contentious meeting, the 12-member RTC voted 9-3 to accept the staff report that points to electric rail as the top transit option to connect Watsonville and Santa Cruz. Read more here about what transpired in the meeting — and what’s next — from our Patrick Riley.

TODAY: Meet your four mayors and get in the know

Mayors Brooks (Capitola), Dutra (Watsonville), Timm (Scotts Valley) & Meyers (Santa Cruz)
From clockwise upper left, mayors Yvette Brooks (Capitola), Jimmy Dutra (Watsonville), Derek Timm (Scotts Valley) and Donna Meyers (Santa Cruz) will discuss issues facing their communities during the ‘Four Mayors’ event on Friday, Feb. 5. Credit: Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerice

LAST CHANCE: What do our area’s top municipal leaders make of the pandemic, economic recovery, climate change and other issues — and how do those issues affect their constituents and the business community? Capitola Mayor Yvette Brooks, Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra, Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers and Scotts Valley Mayor Derek Timm will sit down virtually with Lookout and the Santa Cruz County Chamber of Commerce at 1 p.m. today for “a collaborative conversation” on the issues facing their communities. You can sign up for the event here.

Evacuation debrief: Does lack of debris flow mean the threshold should change?

A week after an “atmospheric river” drenched Santa Cruz County for days prompting the evacuations of thousands of residents in the CZU Lightning Complex burn scar zones, county officials met with residents on Wednesday and Thursday to discuss the process and get community feedback. While Santa Cruz County didn’t see any massive damage from debris flows or mudslides, county supervisors still declared a state of emergency to get federal funding for scattered storm repairs and parts of Highway 1 to the south saw damage on a much larger scale.

Read more from our contributor Robin Estrin, who attended the Wednesday night event. Meanwhile, our Mallory Pickett recently spoke with geologists and learned that experts think the CZU burn scar might be more resistant to debris flows than was previously believed. Read that story here.

Baine on the music beat . . .

SambaDá, the popular Afro-Samba-Funk-Dance-Music group had become a pre-pandemic Moe's staple.
SambaDá, the popular Afro-Samba-Funk-Dance-Music group had become a pre-pandemic Moe’s staple. Credit: Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz

Wallace Baine, our columnist and City Life correspondent, is drawing lots of readership this week for his coverage of the local music scene, including this special report on when and how live music might return here. Our top story this morning is Baine’s How the tragic CZU fire destruction inspired one firefighter to capture it in song, and among our other top stories this week is Bill Welch’s greatest hits: The Moe’s Alley maestro runs down his all-time favorite acts, a look back at Welch’s memories over nearly three decades of ownership of the music venue, which he’s selling.

COVID 2021 Updates

Celebrations of COVID-19 vaccinations at Aegis of Aptos
Celebrations of COVID-19 vaccinations at Aegis of Aptos Credit: Aegis Living

As cases trend down, models point to another potential surge in March: County health officials said in their weekly press conference yesterday that while daily cases continue to trend downward — a 55% drop in 14 days — more contagious variants of the virus that have already been found in neighboring counties could result in a surge in late March. Is it possible to avoid that surge? Our Mallory Pickett has more.

Aegis celebrates its first vaccination clinic, with more scheduled across the county: Aegis Living Aptos is one of many assisted living facilities in Santa Cruz County that are finally receiving their vaccines through the Federal Pharmacy Partnership after months of anticipation. While pharmacies in the program had originally said all residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes would be fully inoculated by the end of January, Aegis is among the facilities in Santa Cruz County that have had to wait. Read more here about the data obtained by our Mallory Pickett about when all nursing home residents in the county are expected to receive at least their first dose of the life-saving vaccine.

Economy Watch:

Senate OKs fast-track of COVID aid, Harris casts tie-breaker: The Associated Press reports that early this morning, the Senate approved a budget resolution that’s a key step toward fast-track passage of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion relief plan. Vice President Kamala Harris was in the chair to cast her first tie breaking vote. The 51-50 vote came after a grueling all-night session, in which senators voted on amendments that could define the contours of the eventual COVID-19 aid bill. The budget now returns to the House.

UCSC economist warns Congress of ‘alarming’ reversal in small business recovery: Meanwhile, UC Santa Cruz Economics Professor Rob Fairlie testified before Congress yesterday, warning that more recent data showed a troubling reversal of trends after small businesses shuttered at record rates in the early months of the pandemic and later inched back toward normalcy over the summer and fall. Fairlie said there was a 6% backslide in small business activity across the U.S. in November and December, calling the recent dip an “alarming” trend. Read more about Fairlie’s testimony in this story by our Nick Ibarra.

Around the area . . .

UPDATE: Suspect believed to have made threats against mall identified as Seaside resident (KION-TV)

Brewers invite former Cabrillo star Clayton Andrews to big league camp (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Two UC Berkeley students test positive for more contagious UK variant of virus (Mercury News)

That’s it for today. If you’re enjoying our coverage, please tell your family and friends about our Lookout Newsletter & Text Center, where they can sign up for all the newsletters and alerts we offer. You can also keep tabs on everything we’re publishing through the day by bookmarking our website and following us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor

Follow Tulsi Kamath on: Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn. Tulsi Kamath was the originator of Lookout Santa Cruz’s flagship Morning Lookout newsletter and its original Managing Editor.