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Morning Lookout | BREAKING: Controversial homeless ordinance greenlit; hail, storms around county and more

Good Morning! It’s Wednesday, March 10. Don’t forget those umbrellas and raincoats today because we’re expecting thunderstorms all day and a high of just 53. Even as I write this, hailstones are littering my balcony amid a downpour early this morning. Keep an eye on the developing forecast here.

I missed a busy couple of days, but my awesome coworkers at Lookout were on top of it, working late into the night yet again to bring you the latest from city council meetings. Early this morning, Santa Cruz City Council members approved a controversial ordinance that makes sweeping changes to where homeless people can live but there are still many questions about its implementation. This comes as the county approved a 3-year plan with some ambitious goals to help tackle the homelessness crisis.

After weeks of anticipation, we are officially waking up in a county that is now in the red tier of COVID restrictions, which means additional businesses can reopen, limited indoor dining will be allowed and more. Meanwhile, more than 10% of Santa Cruz County residents have received two doses of the COVID-19 vaccine and are fully inoculated. However, Watsonville leaders are crying foul after the city was left out of the state’s plan to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccine to the hardest-hit populations.

Meanwhile, amid the threat of recall, Gov. Gavin Newsom gave his 2021 State of State speech in an empty Dodger Stadium last night. Our partners at the LA Times focused their attention on Newsom’s promises as the world looks to recovery in 2021 and the reporters at CalMatters fact-checked his entire speech. More on that later.

Let’s start with what happened in local government:

Homelessness updates: City approves controversial ordinance, county sets lofty goal

An activist holds a "Homeless is not a Crime" sign, in front of City Hall on Tuesday night
An activist holds a “Homeless is not a Crime” sign, in front of City Hall on Tuesday night

Santa Cruz OKs controversial, sweeping changes to where homeless can live, but implementation to be delayed: In the wee hours this morning, Santa Cruz City Council members approved an “outdoor living ordinance” that has been the subject of vigorous community debate for weeks — but many more changes to the law will need to be approved before the law can take effect. After more than five dozen comments from community members and dozens of people gathering outside City Hall, council members accepted the ordinance in its original form around 1 a.m. Isa Cueto has the latest on what transpired last night and details why there will be delays.

By 2024, county aims to decrease number of homeless households by more than 25%: Santa Cruz County is moving forward with a 3-year strategic framework to tackle the homelessness crisis — setting some ambitious goals. The county plans to invest tens of millions of dollars in programs geared toward reducing the overall number of households experiencing homelessness from 1,400-plus to 1,034 by January 2024. Read more from our Patrick Riley here.

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

The local beat

Dawn Kole and Sean Crawford of Ripon fish at the Santa Cruz wharf on March 8, 2021.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz will seek grant funding for multi-use trail, fishing park on the wharf: Santa Cruz city officials got the OK last night to pursue state funding to expand public space and renovate parts of the city’s municipal wharf. If awarded funds through the Park Development and Community Revitalization Program, Santa Cruz could get a major funding boost to realize parts of its Wharf Master Plan, which was approved by city council in November. The two applications approved by city council yesterday propose widening the end of the wharf as well as renovating up to 8,000 square feet of deck and piles. Read more from Isa here.

Watsonville slashes tax rates in half for cannabis retailers, cultivators: Watsonville is trimming taxes for pot growers and retailers, hoping that lower rates will generate more funds and allow cannabis businesses to better compete with both the black market and the rest of the state. Cannabis retailers, cultivators and nursery growers will all see dramatically reduced rates after the tax cut proposal was approved last night by the Watsonville City Council in a 5-2 vote. Read more from our Nick Ibarra here.

THE HERE & NOW: Attention Santa Cruzans, the summer of the big red ball is coming!

red ball sculpture
(Kurt Perschke)

An art installation that has made its way around the planet over the last 20 years will be in Santa Cruz later this year, and is the main feature of Wallace Baine’s The Here & Now column today. He writes:

“Just when most folks are going to be looking for a return to something like normal, something very abnormal is going to happen in Santa Cruz County this summer — but in a good way.” Read the whole thing here.

COVID 2021 Updates

Red tier is finally here! What that means for you: After weeks of anticipation and near-misses, Santa Cruz County is finally in the red tier again, with lighter restrictions on residents’ everyday movements to take effect today. County Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel says “the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter.” She also is announcing the removal of local orders restricting visitors at nursing homes and other congregate living facilities. Read more from our Mark Conley and Mallory Pickett here.

Watsonville leaders decry being left out of state’s vaccine equity plan: When Gov. Gavin Newsom announced a plan to allocate 40% of vaccines to the most disadvantaged communities, as measured by the state’s “Healthy Places Index,” local health officials applauded the change. However, disadvantaged areas in Santa Cruz County are being overlooked in what appears to be a quirk in the way the state is deciding where to send additional vaccines. Watsonville officials are less than pleased. Read more from Nick and Mallory here.

Forecast: California will recover from the pandemic faster than the U.S.: The U.S. and California economies will experience near-record growth this year thanks to widespread vaccinations and massive federal relief for struggling workers and businesses, forecasters predict. California, buoyed by high-earning technology and professional sectors that shifted to at-home work during the pandemic, will recover somewhat faster than the U.S., even though a full rebound in the tourist-dependent leisure and hospitality businesses will lag. Read more from our partners at the LA Times here.

10% of county residents fully immunized: About 30,000 of the 96,921 vaccines administered countywide have been second doses, meaning more than 10% of the county is fully vaccinated. Read all the daily virus and vaccine developments in our COVID TODAY blog here.

Another COVID read: California makes it easier to guarantee volunteers COVID-19 vaccines — just not in Santa Cruz County yet (LA Times and Lookout’s Mallory Pickett)

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Living the California dream has always meant being in touch with nature. With spectacular ocean views from Santa Cruz to...

Analyzing Newsom’s big speech

Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers his third State of the State address to the Legislature and public Dodger Stadium
Gov. Gavin Newsom delivers his third State of the State address from an empty Dodger Stadium. (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

Facing recall, Newsom discusses ‘unthinkable’ pandemic challenges and offers hope for the future: Gov. Gavin Newsom stood in an empty Dodger Stadium yesterday to make an aggressive effort to rekindle faith in his ability to lead a state tattered by economic devastation and enough political animus to nourish an effort to recall him from office. Read more from our partners at the LA Times here.

Meanwhile, our partners at CalMatters did a line-by-line fact-check of the governor’s full speech last night — a joint effort by several reporters. You can read that here. And in case you missed last night’s address, you can watch it here.

Around the county . . .

Police: Santa Cruz man arrested for attempted homicide after assault at San Lorenzo Park (KION-TV)

Pedestrian killed in Watsonville crash (Santa Cruz Sentinel)

First-ever drive-thru crab feed a booming success (The Pajaroian)

Weather wonderland

Here are the hailstones on my balcony. Have a good weather shot you’d like to share? Hit reply to this email and send it my way!

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.