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Morning Lookout: Homelessness, more housing take center stage in Santa Cruz, Watsonville

Good Morning! It’s Wednesday, Feb. 24. It’s going to be sunny with a high of 69 but winds are expected to pick up later today with gusts of up to 45 mph in Santa Cruz, according to the National Weather Service.

It was a busy, busy night, with our team working into the early morning hours to bring you the latest news. After midnight, Santa Cruz City Council members gave initial approval to a hotly debated ‘outdoor living’ ordinance that would limit the places where homeless people can camp. They also mulled options to crack down on anti-mask activists like the ones who recently swarmed a downtown Trader Joe’s.

In Watsonville, council members approved plans for two new apartment developments that would provide 103 new dwellings for both lower-income and market-rate renters. Meanwhile, the Santa Cruz County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved the county’s participation in a state program that would bring rent relief to low-income Santa Cruzans who are struggling to pay their bills.

#BOLO alert: If you haven’t already, sign up to join our free “People in the Pandemic” panel discussion tonight at 6. My awesome colleague Mark Conley will join me in moderating a lively conversation with five community members — Dr. David Ghilarducci, Jennalee Dahlen, Rabbi Paula Marcus, DNA and Daisy Nuñez — and you can bring your questions about the vaccine and the virus to ask Dr. Ghilarducci at the end of the event. Sign up here and read about our panelists here.

Now to your headlines, including news of a possible third vaccine on the market soon:

Huge news on homelessness and housing

A tent at a homeless encampment in Santa Cruz County in 2020.

MAJOR DEVELOPMENT | Santa Cruz outdoor living ordinance gets initial approval — with a few key changes: After hours of public comment and deliberation, a controversial ordinance that would greatly limit where unsheltered people in Santa Cruz can live outdoors was given initial approval in a 5-2 city council vote in the wee hours of Wednesday. Rear our Isabella Cueto’s account of all that transpired — including changes to the ordinance — and find out the next steps here. Meanwhile #BOLO (Be On the Lookout) for more developments on this story on our website today.

Newsom gets earful from county on what to do with Highway 1 homeless camp: Meanwhile, at the county level, the Board of Supervisors followed suit with the city of Santa Cruz and signed off on applying more pressure to Gov. Gavin Newsom, asking him to authorize state transportation officials to clear a homeless encampment near the intersection of Highways 1 and 9 ahead of a major widening project set to begin in April. Our Patrick Riley has more here.

Nearly $17 million in aid to soon be available to Santa Cruz County tenants: Low-income residents in Santa Cruz County struggling to pay rent and utility bills will soon be able to tap into close to $17 million in federal pandemic-relief funds as California prepares to launch a new rental assistance program next month. Read more from Pat about when the program will launch and how tenants can apply for assistance here.

Watsonville city council approves two new housing projects: Two planned apartment developments in Watsonville — one a 50-unit mixed-use project Downtown with some below-market-rate units, the other a 53-unit apartment complex reserved exclusively for low-income renters — garnered support from city council last night. Who was for and against the projects? Pat has the latest here.

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COVID 2021 Updates

People wearing masks walk around Downtown Santa Cruz on Feb. 23, 2021.
People wearing masks walk around Downtown Santa Cruz on Feb. 23, 2021.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

NEW THIS MORNING | A third vaccine coming soon? FDA says Johnson & Johnson’s 1-dose shot prevents COVID: The Food and Drug Administration confirmed that Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine is about 66% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 and is safe to use. This now sets the stage for a final decision to be made in emergency use authorization from the federal agency. Read the full Associated Press report here.

Santa Cruz City Council ‘exploring options’ to crack down on anti-mask events like one at Trader Joe’s: In the past several weeks and through the whole pandemic, maskless protesters have taken to West Cliff Drive, the weekly farmer’s market and, most notably, the Trader Joe’s supermarket downtown. Santa Cruz City’s elected officials asked staff last night for recommendations on how to crack down on the behavior, which violates public health guidelines. Are more anti-mask events coming? Read more from Isa here.

Purple persists: For the second week in a row, Santa Cruz County narrowly missed making the thresholds needed to scale back COVID restrictions to the Red Tier from our current purple tier. Our Mallory Pickett explains how long it could be before the county could move into the red tier here.

Another COVID Read: After billions of dollars and dozens of wartime declarations, why are vaccines still in short supply? (Kaiser Health News)

JOIN OUR CONVERSATION — Get inspired by these ‘people in the pandemic’: It’s been a really tough year for all of us after the pandemic upended our lives as we know them. Tonight at 6 p.m., Mark Conley and I will be chatting with five community members in the fields of medicine, religion, wellness, comedy and mental health. SIGN UP FOR THE FREE EVENT HERE.

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Around the state…

Federal judge says California can enforce net neutrality law (Associated Press)

Family says Navy Vet died after Bay Area police knelt on his neck (Associated Press)

Lessons from a Central California prison where Covid ‘spread like wildfire’ (Kaiser Health News)

Around the county . . .

Watsonville shooting victim dies of injuries days later (KION-TV)

Santa Cruz man helps out father figure after medical emergency in Cambodia (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Scientists call for help to restore reign of Western Monarch butterflies (Good Times)

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