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Morning Lookout: Will Watsonville remove Washington bust, still-smoldering CZU embers caused Jan. fires

Good Morning! It’s Monday, Feb. 8. After a gorgeous Super Bowl weekend (drats, Patrick Mahomes’ bad game came one year late, 49ers fans), it’s going to be mostly cloudy with a high of 60 today.

Amid controversy over the renaming of San Francisco public schools, we’re waking up this morning to news that the Watsonville City Council on Tuesday will take up whether to remove a George Washington bust in City Plaza, that our region and state are in the midst of a ‘year-round fire season’ even after heavy rains, and that a big mixed-use development is being envisioned for Water Street and Branciforte Avenue in Santa Cruz.

Need a break from it all? Amber Turpin’s ode to foraging for mushrooms might be just what you need, and our Nick Ibarra introduces you to an inspirational student at Yale who is remote-learning from Watsonville.

Given that we’re fast approaching our three-month birthday here at Lookout on Feb. 20, we’d like to thank the nearly 6,000 of you (and growing quickly) who get this newsletter each weekday. This thank-you includes a special offer to become a Lookout member as, beginning later this week, access to a small amount of the content on our website will be limited. Morning Lookout, COVID PM, and breaking news email and text alerts will remain free.

The code THANKS, entered here, provides a 10% discount on membership, good through Feb. 10. Our model, patterned on the success of the New York Times and the Washington Post nationally, puts readers — and reader-driven revenue — first and foremost in our plans to grow Lookout locally for you, month after month, year after year.

Now, let’s get to the news of the day:

CZU embers sparked January fires, an indicator of new ‘year-round fire season’

Firefighters from Aptos fire work to put out a blaze off of Gillette Rd. in Watsonville on Tuesday afternoon.
Firefighters from Aptos fire work to put out a blaze off of Gillette Rd. in Watsonville on Tuesday afternoon.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Embers from the CZU Lightning Complex fires back in August sparked most of the 20 fires that burned in and around Santa Cruz County in January, Cal Fire Deputy Chief Nate Armstrong said in a 10-minute video posted yesterday morning. “It’s pretty evident that California is in a year-round fire season at this point,” he said. Read more about the drought conditions that could make things worse.

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Jacob’s Heart Children’s Cancer Support Services exists to improve the quality of life for children with cancer and...

Vaccine showdown: 8 out of 10 teachers’ unions in county unify against school reopening before vaccinations

A child learns in person at a Santa Cruz Montessori school.
A child learns in person at a Santa Cruz Montessori school.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz County has crossed an important threshold, as COVID-19 case rates are now low enough that schools can apply to resume in-person classes for students in grades six and below. But this is unlikely to happen anytime soon, as educators and public health officials are at odds over whether teacher vaccinations should be a condition for a full return to the classroom. Read the full story and letter from the unions here.

PROBLEMS ELSEWHERE: Our content partner Kaiser Health News reports the pandemic divisions over school reopening are mirrored across the state and country. And EdSource reports that the San Francisco Unified Schools Superintendent is planning to open some schools amid a city lawsuit that wants him to do.

Yale student learning from Watsonville home reflects on inequities as parents work in fields

Raised in Watsonville, Alexandra Rocha-Alvarez is a junior at Yale University.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Watsonville-native Alexandra Rocha-Alvarez, 20, is attending her second straight semester at Yale University remotely from the Watsonville apartment where she grew up. Her parents, both farmworkers, have had to work in the fields throughout the entire pandemic. “In the Yale ecosystem, I was probably one of the most underprivileged undergraduate students there,” Rocha-Alvarez says. “But at home, man — I just couldn’t stop thinking about how lucky I am to be rolling out of bed at 6:30, logging on to Zoom, staying in my pajamas, and learning, and having that be my quote-unquote job.” Read our Nick Ibarra’s story about Rocha-Alvarez and the lessons she’s learning firsthand amid the pandemic.

Watsonville to consider removing George Washington bust from City Plaza

The George Washington statue in downtown Watsonville is under the microscope.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

NEW THIS MORNING: Watsonville Mayor Jimmy Dutra is taking to Facebook to get a feel for public opinion before the city council is set to discuss the removal of a bust of founding father, and slave owner, George Washington from the Watsonville City Plaza. Read about the three options the city is considering and find a link to where you can weigh in here.

THE HERE & NOW: With Santa Cruz’s mission bells removed and the Washington bust under consideration for removal, what’s next? Where does the line get drawn for what needs to change? Mission bells could lead to Mission Street. And from there you start getting into deeper dark places within California’s history. Read Wallace Baine’s column here.

RELATED: Lincoln, Washington, Feinstein, Lowell — San Francisco will rename 42 schools (LA Times)

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Look out for these local, leading ladies as they break through traditionally male-dominated positions in the...

151 apartments, retail space and rooftop bar envisioned for Water and Branciforte in Santa Cruz

A preliminary rendering of the pair of five-story apartment buildings that could be built at 831 Water St. in Santa Cruz.
A preliminary rendering of the pair of five-story apartment buildings that could be built at 831 Water St. in Santa Cruz. The project has not been submitted to the city for approval.
(Courtesy city of Santa Cruz, Novin Development)

A strip mall on Water Street and Branciforte Avenue in Santa Cruz could be transformed into a five-story,151-unit apartment complex with ground-floor retail space and a rooftop bar, under a proposal developers plan to submit to the city. Our Isabella Cueto takes a big look at the proposed development and the potential neighborhood opposition for it here.

Bad news . . . and worse news for Gavin Newsom

Two fresh polls indicate that California voters might be falling out of love with a governor who just three years ago was elected by a record-breaking margin, and who early in the pandemic ranked as one of the country’s most popular state leaders. According to the survey from the Public Policy Institute of California, the era of bipartisan good feelings now appears to be over for Gavin Newsom. That’s the bad news. But a poll from the UC Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies tells an even darker story. Read more from our content partner, CalMatters here.

EXPLAINED: Wondering about those “Recall Newsom” signs? Here’s what’s going on (CalMatters)

Around the county . . .

The joyous mysteries of the mushroom hunt: ‘Part skill, part luck, part serendipity” (Lookout Santa Cruz)

Watsonville Film Festival taking submissions for community project (Good Times)

Santa Cruz County Court’s order on convicted rapist stirs pushback (Patch)

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.

Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor