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Morning Lookout: Contentious Seabright development approved, vaccine line-jumpers and more

Good Morning! It’s Friday, Feb. 12. It’s going to be a lovely, partly sunny day with a high of 59, but the rain is back tomorrow, so get out while you can!

To round out your week, we have some updates to stories we’ve followed and some big new headlines. Yesterday, county health leaders revealed hundreds of ineligible people — some who lived as far aways as LA — tried to “game the system” by signing up for vaccinations at the county fairgrounds. Meanwhile, as case rates and positivity rates continue to plummet, county leaders are warning that a model shows that another COVID-19 surge could be coming next month.

Meanwhile, local law enforcement agencies have been busy, assisting in a big federal drug bust involving the Sinaloa Cartel and cracking down on a series of illegal marijuana growth centers that pose fire risks. We’ve also learned that the driver of the semi-truck who fatally struck the 61-year-old woman walking her dog in downtown Santa Cruz showed no signs of “impairment or negligence.”

As President Biden continues to undo policies from the past four years, next week border officials will begin processing immigrants at a California port of entry after they were subjected to the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Also on the statewide beat, a new bill would make it easier for terminally ill Californians to get aid in dying.

There’s some Valentine’s Day advice at the end of this newsletter, but let’s get to the headlines first:

Battle over 418 Pennsylvania Ave. rental development in Seabright ends with project approval

A rendering of the three-bedroom units to be built at 418 Pennsylvania Ave. in Santa Cruz.
A rendering of the three-bedroom units to be built at 418 Pennsylvania Ave. in Santa Cruz. The project was approved by city staff in October.
(Courtesy city of Santa Cruz Planning Department)

Call it the little-ish rental development that sparked a big controversy. The Santa Cruz City Council this week OK’ed plans for three new townhome-style buildings in Seabright that will be behind an existing single-family home. But the path to approval was anything but smooth, with some government officials opposing the plans. Our Isabella Cueto has the backstory here.

Local busts

Drugs and guns seized through "Operation Burnt Orange."
(U.S. attorney, Northern District of California)

Suspect with ties to Watsonville among 19 nabbed in massive bust involving Sinaloa Cartel: Watsonville police and the Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office each played a role in assisting in “Operation Burnt Orange,” a federal investigation into an alleged scheme to funnel drugs into the San Jose area and firearms into Mexico. Among the 19 suspects charged is a man who was arrested in Watsonville. Read more about the amounts of drugs and cash seized during the operation here.

Electrical issue tied to illegal indoor cannabis grows prompts county to warn public about fire risk: Santa Cruz County officials are sounding an alarm about illegal indoor cannabis growth centers that pose wildfire hazards, prompted in part by a December blaze in Boulder Creek sparked by a so-called electrical bypass. Authorities discovered 910 cannabis plants inside that facility — part of a trend countywide, officials say. Read more here.

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COVID 2021 Updates

The drive-thru vaccination clinic at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds on Tuesday.
The drive-thru vaccination clinic at the Santa Cruz County Fairgrounds on Tuesday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

County vaccine progress so far:

  • Doses administered to Santa Cruz residents through all avenues: 45,582 doses
  • Residents who have had both doses through county: 4,382 people

People from as far away as LA try to ‘game the system’ at Santa Cruz County vaccination site: Health officials had to cancel 1,000 appointments for Wednesday’s mass vaccination clinic at the fairgrounds after discovering that the majority of appointments were made by people who did not meet the clinic criteria and about 10 percent lived as far away as LA and Yolo County. Read more about what public health officials did next and what they’re saying to county residents in this report from our Mallory Pickett.

Active cases here drop below 1,000, but health officials warn of a coming surge: Public health officials are lauding the continued decrease in active cases and hospitalizations, but they warn that national and local models forecast an intense surge in mid-March, driven largely by new, likely more transmissible variants. Just how big will that surge be? Read more from Mallory Pickett and me in COVID TODAY.

RELATED: April could see ‘open season’ for COVID-19 vaccines, Fauci says (LA Times)

Free COVID 2021 virtual event: Get inspired by these ‘people in the pandemic’: As we near the one-year anniversary of the pandemic that upended our lives, we are still in masks, waiting for vaccines and hoping for a better year. On Wednesday, Feb. 24, we will talk with four community members — Yoso Wellness Spa owner Jennalee Dahlen, Santa Cruz County EMS medical director Dr. David Ghilarducci, comedian and events producer DNA and Rabbi Paula Marcus of Temple Beth El in Aptos — who, like us all, have seen their ups and downs during the pandemic. Read more about our panelists and register for our free “People in the Pandemic” event here.

Around the state…

Migrants from Central America and Mexico await the outcome of their U.S. immigration court cases in a tent encampment
Migrants from Central America and Mexico await the outcome of their U.S. immigration court cases in a tent encampment near the Gateway International Bridge at the U.S.-Mexico border in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, in 2019. (Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Biden administration to start processing asylum seekers in California forced by Trump to ‘Remain in Mexico’: U.S. officials will begin next Friday by allowing in and processing immigrants at ports of entry in San Ysidro, Calif., and El Paso and Brownsville, Texas, who were subjected to the “Remain in Mexico” policy, shelter directors and United Nations officials told The LA Times. Authorities plan to start slowly with two border crossings each processing up to 300 people a day and a third crossing taking fewer. Read more about how the Biden administration is rolling back the Trump-era immigration policy in this story from our content partner the LA Times.

California lawmakers want to ease limits on state’s aid-in-dying law: Five years after a law allowed doctors to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill people who want to end their lives, new legislation introduced Wednesday would speed up the process for patients whose physicians certify they are close to death. Nearly 2,000 Californians with terminal illnesses used the California End of Life Option Act to receive prescriptions for lethal doses during the law’s first 3.5 years and many other terminally ill patients have been unable to obtain such medication before their deaths. Read more about how the bill would also require hospitals to help patients get aid-in-dying information in this LA Times story.

Around the county . . .

AR-15 stolen from Santa Cruz Police Department four years ago still missing (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

UCSC researchers win grant to develop more sustainable aquaculture (Good Times)

The history behind street names in Downtown Felton (San Lorenzo Valley Post)

Don’t say I didn’t remind you!

Valentine’s Day is this weekend, so if you haven’t already, start thinking about the nice thing you could do for your quarantine partner. If you need ideas for cute pandemic themed Valentine messages, Kaiser Health News readers tweeted some adorable and hilarious couplets you could borrow like this one:

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