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Morning Lookout: Environmental injustice in Pajaro Valley, Cabrillo name change, expanded vaccine eligibility

Good Morning! It’s Monday, March 15. We’re waking up to some chilly temperatures after a cold front came through last night. The rest of the day will be mostly cloudy with showers and a high of 54. Luckily, we’re not part of a frost advisory that’s in place for other nearby counties. And if you woke up bleary-eyed like I did today, don’t forget Daylight Saving Time stole an hour of sleep from us.

Millions more people in the state are now eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine today and while that’s good news for people with disabilities and preexisting conditions, the state’s vaccine supply might continue to cause problems for people trying to get inoculated. Despite that, local leaders remain optimistic, saying our county might see herd immunity by late spring. Our Mallory Pickett digs into the statistics behind the concept.

We also have updates on development and affordability. For more than 65 years, the lower-income residents of the Pajaro Valley region have been left unprotected from catastrophic flooding by a system of levees that are not doing their jobs. That might finally change with intervention from Rep. Jimmy Panetta and a host of others. Meanwhile, a large riverfront development in Santa Cruz has been greenlit and the Scotts Valley Library will be seeing millions in renovations later this year.

Before the headlines, two Lookout shoutouts: Our work at Lookout is starting to receive some national and statewide attention. Just this morning, the LA Times ‘Essential California’ newsletter gave our Nick Ibarra a shoutout, featuring his story on how Cabrillo College officials are mulling the idea of changing the community college’s name. Meanwhile, our work bringing local news to Santa Cruz was featured in a Forbes article last week.

With that, we’re off:

Decades in making, Pajaro River levee project might finally right an environmental injustice, officials say

A photo from an Army Corps report shows flooding caused by a 1995 breach of the Pajaro River
A photo from an Army Corps report shows flooding caused by a 1995 breach of the Pajaro River. The orange circle encompasses the Town of Pajaro. The mouth of the Pajaro River is in the foreground.
(Courtesy of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers)

For more than half a century, the communities of Watsonville and Pajaro have lived in the shadow of a levee system that can’t protect them from devastating floods. “It would be hard to come up with a greater example of funding inequity, especially for disadvantaged communities,” said Santa Cruz County Supervisor Zach Friend. Now, a proposed $400 million federal project to improve the system is finally taking crucial steps that could lead to righting that longstanding injustice, officials say. Read Patrick Riley’s story on the project that’s more than 65 years in the making.

Presented by Santa Cruz County Bank

Wild Poppies – a small local olive oil business – was created by two sisters, Kim Null and Jamie de Sieyes. Their...

Development & affordability

Riverfront development rendering
A rendering of the 175-unit riverfront development in downtown Santa Cruz.
(Rendering courtesy city of Santa Cruz)

Big riverfront project in downtown Santa Cruz withstands appeal, setting stage for construction: A mixed-use development in downtown Santa Cruz along the San Lorenzo River could break ground next year after withstanding an appeal to the California Coastal Commission. The commission found “no substantial issues” with the riverfront project, which will add a total of 155 market-rate condominiums, 20 affordable-housing rentals, new commercial space, public plazas and a basement and ground-level parking garage to downtown. Read more from Isabella Cueto and Mallory Pickett here.

Scotts Valley Library to undergo $3.5M in renovations this fall. Here’s what’s in the works: Although the Scotts Valley library is only 10 years old it is the second most used library in the county and has undergone some wear and tear, according to Scotts Valley officials. The city plans to address some key concerns patrons have flagged through the years. Read more about what upgrades are in the works and the timeline for the project here.

Here’s why your electricity prices are high and soaring: PG&E customers pay about 80% more per kilowatt-hour than the national average, and California electricity prices are among the highest in the country, according to a new study by the energy institute at UC Berkeley’s Haas Business School. In fact, just this month, a PG&E rate hike went into effect that will mean significantly higher utility bills for customers. So why are the rates so high? Our partners at CalMatters get to the bottom of it.

Social justice

Cabrillo College
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

Should Cabrillo College change its name? Community conversations to begin: Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo was long celebrated for his historic 1542 voyage along the California coastline, becoming the first European to explore the state. And in 1959, when a new community college was founded in Aptos, officials named it in his honor. But behind his once-glossy public image is a brutal side to the explorer’s legacy. Now, Cabrillo College officials are weighing whether to keep or change the college’s name. Read more from our Nick Ibarra here.

A sign at the Breonna Taylor memorial rekindled by the Black Lives Matter movement Saturday.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz )

PHOTOS: One year after Breonna Taylor’s death, Santa Cruzans — and a nation — remember: They gathered in Louisville, where 26-year-old Breonna Taylor was shot and killed by police on March 13, 2020, during a search warrant gone awry. And they also gathered Saturday in Santa Cruz to remember not only Taylor, but also George Floyd and other Black people who have lost their lives because of police misconduct. Our Kevin Painchaud captured the poignant scene this weekend. See the photos here.

Demonstrators sue, accuse San Jose police of excessive force: Two Northern California civil rights organizations and demonstrators, including a man who lost his eye, are suing the city of San Jose, saying police officers used excessive force against protesters who took to the streets last year following George Floyd’s death. The class-action lawsuit seeks compensation for everyone who was injured or wrongfully arrested and reforms in the way San Jose police are trained. Read the full Associated Press report here.

Herd immunity explained

Last week, Santa Cruz County public health officials said we could see herd immunity here by late spring. “Herd immunity” is “the indirect protection from an infectious disease that happens when a population is immune either through vaccination or immunity developed through previous infection,” according to the World Health Organization. While health officials can’t say for certain when it will happen in Santa Cruz County, vaccination percentages can offer some clues.

Our Mallory Pickett talked to health experts to explain herd immunity and inoculation progress in our county. Read that here.

Expanded vaccine eligibility starts today

Governor Gavin Newsom visits a mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinic at Faithful Central Bible Church in Inglewood on Sunday.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

THE GOOD NEWS: Beginning today, millions of Californians with preexisting health conditions as well as disabilities will be eligible to sign up for a COVID-19 vaccine. The expanded criteria mean people ages 16 to 64 can get the vaccine if they are deemed to be at the very highest risk. The high-risk group includes 10 categories. Read more about what you need to know from the LA Times here.

THE REALITY CHECK: With population estimates for the group with disabilities and preexisting conditions ranging from 4 million to 5 million, and with other eligible groups totaling some 13 million, nearly half of all Californians will be eligible for the vaccine. But despite the expanded eligibility, there is a shortage of supplies statewide. We’ve got the LA Times story on these challenges here.

Around the county . . .

Santa Cruz road construction update: Pacific Avenue work north of Beach Street to start today (Lookout Santa Cruz)

Land Trust Executive Director Stephen Slade to retire this summer (Lookout Santa Cruz)

Board asks San Lorenzo Valley Water District for pro-con list on merger (Scotts Valley Press Banner)

Casper Spotting: The search for the elusive white dolphin in Monterey Bay (KION-TV)

That’s it for today. If you’re not already signed up for Lookout’s Breaking News Text Alerts, I highly recommend you do. When major news happens, we deliver those headlines right to your phone, so you can be in the know all the time. You can sign up for the free text alerts here or just text the word BREAKING to (831) 265-0158.

To ensure you’re staying informed about all the goings-on in Santa Cruz, consider becoming a Lookout member. Our content isn’t possible without community support.

Have a great day!

Tulsi Kamath
Managing Editor

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