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Morning Lookout: Capitola business grants, school reopening updates and more

Good Morning! It’s Friday, Feb. 26. It’ll be a lovely sunny day with a high of 64.

It was another late night for our Isabella Cueto, who covered the Capitola City Council meeting and learned the city is set to give grants to qualifying businesses to help them stay afloat amid the economic speedbump of the pandemic. Meanwhile, a full year after COVID-19 shuttered schools, our Nick Ibarra broke the news that some of the county’s youngest kids will be back in classrooms next week, with all 10 school districts revealing timelines for returns to limited in-person learning.

In a story that continues to shake the community’s collective soul, the California Supreme Court released an opinion that will impact the case of the man accused in the 2015 rape, kidnapping and murder of 8-year-old Madyson Middleton. More on that below.

Meanwhile, some happier developments, especially for those traveling south: Caltrans officials said yesterday that the portion of Highway 1 in Big Sur that washed away last month could be reopened in a few months. We also received a new, largely positive update from county health officials on the state of the vaccine rollout and the COVID-19 pandemic.

We also have a recap of our special Lookout event earlier this week and a look ahead to the Watsonville Film Festival, of which we’re the exclusive media sponsor.

But first, let’s go to Capitola:

Capitola set to give $7,500 grants to help businesses stay afloat during COVID-19

Capitola in December 2020
Capitola in December 2020.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Capitola businesses who meet certain qualifications should soon be eligible to apply for grants of $7,500 each to help them pay rent and utilities amid the pandemic economic downturn. City council members voted last night for Capitola to submit a final application to get $320,261 from the California Department of Housing and Community Development in the form of Community Development Block Grants. Read more from Isabella Cueto here.

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All 10 Santa Cruz County school districts announce timelines for returns to some in-person learning

Students wearing masks learn in a Santa Cruz County classroom.
Students wearing masks learn in a Santa Cruz County classroom.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Next week, the first Santa Cruz County students will begin returning to classrooms following the year-long pandemic closure. Scotts Valley Unified will lead the pack with the youngest children back in class on March 3. See the timelines for other grades and school districts in this story by our Nick Ibarra.

Meanwhile, Pajaro Valley Unified, the largest district in the county, will be last to return to in-person learning with the district’s youngest learnings set to return to class in April. And once back in classrooms, students will be limited to 1.5 hours of in-person learning each day for two days out of the week — less than half the in-person time proposed by some nearby districts. Read Nick’s full story here.

‘No punishment can ever undo what was done or bring our beloved Maddy back to us’

The California Supreme Court issued a ruling yesterday that’s expected to allow Adrian Jerry Gonzalez — the accused killer of 8-year-old Madyson Middleton — to walk free by age 25, even if he’s convicted of murder, rape, kidnapping and other crimes. Madyson’s family members, who have waited for years for the case to advance in courts, called the decision “absolutely disappointing.” Read more from our Nick Ibarra here.

#BOLO: Watsonville Film Festival starts March 5

The pandemic is forcing the Watsonville Film Festival to go virtual this year, but the March 5-13 event has an upside: All films are free. As the exclusive media partner of the festival, Lookout has been including trailers for some of the movies on our website, including this post today about the role of women in film and community. Be On the Lookout for more WFF posts in coming days and learn more about the festival at its website here.

COVID 2021 Updates

A healthcare worker holds a tray full of COVID-19 vaccine doses at Dignity Health in Santa Cruz County on Jan. 21, 2021.
A healthcare worker holds a tray full of COVID-19 vaccine doses at Dignity Health in Santa Cruz County on Jan. 21, 2021.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Vaccine doses administered so far: 72,921
Doses to those who are over 65: 63% of residents have received one dose and 17% have received two doses

‘Normalcy’ by mid-August — or even sooner?: In a press conference yesterday, Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel said they are seeing “continuing downward trends in all the important numbers,” such as new cases, hospitalizations and positivity rates. The other set of important numbers — those related to vaccinations — are continuing to trend upwards.

Among other topics was the lack of equitable distribution of the vaccine so far:

  • White people have received 44.5% of total doses administered
  • 18.2% have gone to the Latino population

County EMS Medical Director Dr. David Ghilarducci said the inequity is mostly due to the fact that Phase 1a vaccination priorities did not have provisions for race or equity but that in the more recent numbers, “the racial equity mix seems to be improving.”

Read more from our Mallory Pickett’s coverage of the news conference here.

WATCH: Our ‘People in the Pandemic’ event pulled the Santa Cruz community together: Has pandemic life taken its toll on you and yours? We have an antidote of sorts. Earlier this week, Mark Conley and I hosted Lookout’s “People in the Pandemic” forum featuring Yoso Wellness Spa owner Jennalee Dahlen, Santa Cruz County EMS medical director Dr. David Ghilarducci, comedian and events producer DNA, Watsonville High School counselor and Hospice of Santa Cruz County board member Daisy Nuñez, and Rabbi Paula Marcus of Temple Beth El in Aptos. Our panelists offered up pearls of wisdom and information on various topics. If you missed the event, you can watch it here.

Another COVID Read: A ‘fully vaccinated’ cheatsheet: Can I hug a friend? Eat indoors? See a movie? (LA Times)

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Statewide beat

Highway 1 washout near Big Sur expected to be fixed by summer: Caltrans is estimating it can repair the 150-foot portion of Highway 1 in Big Sur that washed away in last month’s atmospheric river and reopen the highway by early summer. Repairs involve “the manipulation of tens of thousands of cubic yards of material.” Read more from our content partners at the LA Times.

Will Kevin McCarthy’s cozying to Trump make him House speaker? Bakersfield Republican Rep. Kevin McCarthy sees a chance to ride his close relationship with former President Donald Trump into the House majority and a job he’s coveted for years: speaker. In a time when many powerful Republicans are trying to distance themselves from the former president, McCarthy instead is maintaining ties with Trump while trying to maintain ties with other influential members of his party. Read more from the LA Times here.

Around the county . . .

Wanted Santa Cruz felon arrested in South Lake Tahoe after an hours-long standoff (KION-TV)

Santa Cruz County departments try to remain accessible through furloughs (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

Elkhorn Slough restoration project receives $1.3M grant (The Pajaronian)

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