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Morning Lookout: Big news for Joby Aviation, COVID variants top of mind and more

Good Morning! It’s Thursday, Feb. 25. It’s going to be mostly sunny with a high of 65. The wind advisory that was in place overnight was allowed to expire at 4 a.m., though it will still be windy today — especially in the higher elevations.

We’re waking up to big news on the tech beat, with Bonny Doon (in the form of aircraft innovator Joby Aviation, headquartered there) meeting the Big Apple (in the form of the New York Stock Exchange). Nick Ibarra has more on Joby announcing it is going public, its valuation and what that means for its launch of commercial air taxi service.

Further out in space, NASA’s Perseverance took its first 360-degree panoramic shot of Red Planet — 142 images stitched together so scientists can learn more about our neighbor. Check out the cool shot here.

Back on earth, we’re gauging the public’s reaction to Santa Cruz’s proposed ordinance restricting where homeless people can camp. Hint: it looks a lot like Rail Trail.

And, in the wake of our “People in the Pandemic” event last night — attendees #BOLO for our follow-up email this morning — COVID 19 variants are top of mind.

Let’s start with Joby:

Joby Aviation goes public with massive merger, setting sights on launch of air taxi service in 2024

Joby Aviation's all-electric aircraft takes off and lands vertically, and can carry four passengers up to 150 miles.
(Bradley Wentzel / Contributed)

Joby Aviation, headquartered in Santa Cruz County, is going public on the wings of a major merger that pegs the implied valuation of the electric aviation company at $6.6 billion and establishes a timeline for it to launch a commercial air taxi service in 2024. The deal also sets up Joby for an expected public listing on the New York Stock Exchange. Read more from our Nick Ibarra here and watch the first-ever videos of Joby aircraft in flight.

Three local nonprofits - Homeless Garden Project, Save Our Shores, and Teen Kitchen Project - are working hard to...

Santa Cruz County planning board OKs proposed 21-unit townhome project with some low-income housing

A rendering from CKA Architects shows the proposed town home development at 3212 Mission Drive.
(Patrick Riley/Lookout Santa Cruz)

The Santa Cruz County planning commission unanimously approved a proposed development that would bring 21 three-bedroom units across 11 buildings to a 0.88-acre parcel at 3212 Mission Drive. The two-story development would reserve two units for moderate-income tenants and one for “very low-income” residents. Read more from our Patrick Riley about what’s next for the project here.

Widening inequity or major problem? The deeply divided public opinions on Santa Cruz’s homelessness ordinance

The homeless encampment at Highways 1 and 9 in Santa Cruz.
The homeless encampment at Highways 1 and 9 in Santa Cruz.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Robust debate accompanied the marathon Santa Cruz City Council meeting in which the council voted to give the first of two required approvals to a proposed ordinance banning outdoor living in many parts of the city. The more than 700 pages of written comment and four dozen comments made in person provide a window into how divisive the issue is. Read what residents on both sides are saying here.

COVID variants top of mind

A transmission electron micrograph of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles that were isolated from a patient.
An image of SARS-CoV-2 virus particles from a transmission electron microscope. (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases)

Have a case of a COVID variant? No one is going to tell you: With COVID variants spreading rapidly across the world and the country, a new problem has arisen: lab officials say they can’t tell patients or their doctors whether someone has been infected by a variant. Federal rules around who can be told about variant cases are so confusing that public health officials may merely know the county where a case has emerged but can’t do the kind of investigation and deliver the notifications needed to slow the spread. Read more from our content partner Kaiser Health News here.

The ‘nightmare scenario’ for California’s coronavirus strain: Here is what we know: Even as California continues to see big declines in COVID-19 cases, new research strongly suggests that the coronavirus strain now dominant in California not only spreads more readily than its predecessors, but also has the ability to evade antibodies generated by COVID-19 vaccines or prior infection. Could the California strain undo this progress? Read more from our content partner, the LA Times here.

What about variants in Santa Cruz County? Santa Cruz County EMS Medical Director and Deputy Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci was part of a five-member panel during Lookout’s “People in the Pandemic” event last night. Between wastewater research by UCSC scientists and sequencing work by the Genomics Institute at the school, active efforts are underway to search for COVID variants in the county. We asked Ghilarducci about variants and other pressing COVID and vaccine questions. Watch it here.

#BOLO: After a break last week, Santa Cruz County health leadership will resume their weekly updates on the vaccines, the virus and the variants. Be On the Lookout at 2 p.m. for the livestream on our website and full coverage later in the day.

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

The environmental beat

New electric vehicle incentive offered to customers of 3CE in Santa Cruz County, elsewhere: Central Coast Community Energy (3CE), which serves 100,000 customers in Santa Cruz County, announced new incentives for customers who buy electric vehicles — both new and used. Read more from our Mallory Pickett about what incentives are available.

Warmer temperatures may offer California farmers a rare silver lining: fewer frosts: In a rare bit of good climate news for farmers, a recent study suggests that orchards may see fewer crop-destroying frosts by midcentury. This could save farmers billions of gallons of water and millions of dollars in energy costs that would have gone toward preventing frost damage. Read more from our content partner Inside Climate News here.

Around the county . . .

Longtime Santa Cruz City Manager Martin Bernal to retire in July (Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz County sheriff seeks public’s help in finding suspect in January shooting on Soquel near Winkle (Lookout Santa Cruz)

‘They need the vaccine and they need it now’: Transportation heads ask for prioritization (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

UC Santa Cruz police ask for public help in locating missing student believed to be at risk (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

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We’re all about Santa Cruz County, from north to south and in-between.