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Morning Lookout: Debating Rail Trail ahead of today’s meeting, local leaders ask for peace and more

Good Morning! It’s Thursday, Jan. 14, and it’s going to be another beautiful, mostly sunny day with a high of 69.

The commission charged with deciding whether a rail line and trail — or just a trail — on Santa Cruz County’s 32-mile Coastal Rail Corridor holds a key hearing today in advance of a Feb. 4 vote to single out an option for the project. We sat down with key players in the debate beforehand. More on that below.

Yesterday, President Donald Trump became the first U.S. President to be impeached twice after the U.S. House of Representatives voted 232-197 in favor of a charge of incitement of insurrection. Meanwhile, troops are pouring in to the nation’s capital ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration next week, and a fear of violence is permeating throughout the country, with local officials — including our own Santa Cruz mayor and police chief — asking all Americans to act peacefully.

Our COVID 2021 updates include an explainer on why the Santa Cruz County positivity rate remains above 20% and how a new expanded, state vaccine tier means tens of thousands in Santa Cruz will get the vaccine sooner than originally thought.

Let’s get to our non-COVID headlines first:

Point-Counterpoint: Rail Trail

Ahead of today’s Rail Trail hearing, our Isabella Cueto and Patrick Riley sat down individually with leaders on both sides of the issue: Mark Mesiti-Miller, vice-chair of Friends of the Rail & Trail, and Bud Colligan, board member for Greenway Santa Cruz County. Miller’s group wants a rail line next to a recreation path. Colligan’s group wants a path only. Both are passionate and articulate in their viewpoints. Read the whole thing — and learn how to watch today’s hearing — here.

Celebrate the MAH’s 25th Anniversary with new exhibitions and events happening throughout Santa Cruz County in 2021.

‘Unprecedented’ approach to security in D.C., Santa Cruz leaders ask people to speak out ‘peacefully’

National Guard sleep in the halls of Capitol Hill as the House of Representatives convene to impeach President Donald Trump
Members of the National Guard sleep in the halls of the Capitol before the House convened to impeach President Trump, a week after the Capitol siege. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Thousands of police and military troops are pouring into the nation’s capital this week, transforming the city into an armed fortress in an extraordinary show of force aimed at heading off more mob violence ahead of next week’s inauguration ceremony. So many National Guard members were dispatched to Washington, and so quickly, they were left to sleep on the domed building’s marble floors, a scene reminiscent of the Civil War. Read more about security efforts ahead of Biden’s inauguration in this story by our partner, the LA Times.

Meanwhile, locally, Santa Cruz Mayor Donna Meyers and Police Chief Andy Mills have released a video urging residents to speak out “peacefully.” Says Mills: “We cannot and will not tolerate an insurrection of violence.” Watch their message here.

How California’s budget depends on staggering wealth gap

Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $227 billion California spending plan is setting records in more ways than one. Were his budget proposal approved by lawmakers as is, the state would spend an unprecedented amount to fend off poverty, eviction and K-12 education loss for California’s most vulnerable residents in the 2021-22 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Read more and see five charts compiled by our content partner CalMatter that shows the growing wage gap.

JUST IN: The Associated Press reports that the number of people seeking unemployment aid soared last week to 965,000, the most since late August and evidence that the resurgent virus has caused a spike in layoffs.

COVID 2021 updates

COVID-19 continues to rage on in Santa Cruz County and the greater Bay Area, though no new deaths were reported countywide on Wednesday.

Here’s a look at the latest numbers:

COVID snapshot

Positivity rate explained: The county continues to have a shockingly-high 14-day average positivity rate at 20.2%. People have asked us about why the county reports a different positivity rate than the state and which one is correct. Lookout’s Mallory Pickett talked with Dr. David Ghilarducci, the county director of emergency medical services and he goes into detail about the issue here.

ASK LOOKOUT: We’ll find answers to your vaccine, COVID-19 questions

Read more of our latest local COVID-19 updates in our live blog here.

How close is California to bending the coronavirus curve? The state has had some of the worst outcomes: morgues filled, hospitals overwhelmed, oxygen in short supply. But that is slowly beginning to change — especially in Northern California. Still, it’s far from clear the state is fully rebounding. The post-Christmas surge is the biggest concern for public health officials, who worry what additional infections will do to hospitals already deluged with patients. The hope is that by February there will be some relief as case numbers begin to stabilize and there are some positive signs. Read more about national trends and how things may play out in the Golden State in this story by our partner, the LA Times.

Move-in plans canceled for hundreds of students as COVID-19 cases rise at UCSC: Even as COVID-19 cases surged in the fall, UC Santa Cruz — with strict protocols and frequent testing — was able to keep a lid on the spread of the disease among the small number of students living on campus. Then came winter break. Read more about how things changed and what that means for students now in this story by Nick Ibarra.

‘Game changer’: With Santa Cruzans 65-plus now eligible for vaccine, here’s what to know: Meanwhile, on the vaccine front, California adopted federal guidelines yesterday that will allow anyone who is 65 and older to get the COVID-19 vaccine. In Santa Cruz County, that means tens of thousands more people here will be eligible to receive the vaccine sooner than originally planned. Read here about how that might impact you and what’s next in the line for the vaccine.

Californians paying price for chaotic rollout of coronavirus vaccine, experts say: As roughly 4,000 Americans die each day from COVID-19, public health and medical experts are aghast that the vaccines that could save them remain beyond reach — due to multiple governmental failures involving planning, coordination and public communication. Read more about why California has only administered a third of the vaccine doses available to it in this story by our content partner, the LA Times.

15 Kaiser San Jose patients test positive for COVID-19 after Christmas Day outbreak

BOLO: For the last few weeks, we have been covering the steadily worsening situation in Santa Cruz County assisted living and skilled nursing facilities. Even with the vaccine rollout underway, fear and uncertainty remain. Be On The Lookout later today on our website for that story.

Around the county…

Season’s first haul of Dungeness crab finally arrives in Bay Area (The Mercury News)

Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s investigating Wednesday shooting (KION-TV)

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