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Morning Lookout: Looking back on a pandemic year, a special environmental report on kelp forests and more

Good Morning! It’s Tuesday, March 16. We’re waking up to some near-freezing temperatures, with the rest of the day expected to be mostly sunny with a high of 56. Early this morning, it was 36 degrees in Santa Cruz but a full 12 degrees warmer in Monterey — a celestial phenomenon National Weather Service meteorologists thought would be cool to explain on Twitter.

Today officially marks one year since the pandemic shelter-in-place orders were issued in Santa Cruz County, triggering 12 long months of pandemic life. To commemorate the solemn moment and look to a (fingers crossed) hopeful future, our Wallace Baine wrote a tear-jerker for his most recent The Here & Now column. Meanwhile, we built an interactive timeline to look back at all the key local moments of the COVID-19 pandemic and have a variety of other recovery-related news below.

We’ve also got a pair of important stories from our Mallory Pickett, one of them a partnership with Inside Climate News about the world’s dwindling kelp forests in Monterey Bay and beyond. After wrapping up her story about the ocean, Mallory headed up to the mountains (virtually) to cover Cal Fire’s fascinating wrap-up of the CZU Lightning Complex Fire.

From the latest on “Recall Newsom” to rental assistance to a Santa Cruz quiz, there’s a ton to tackle. Let’s start with that look back:

COVID-19: One H of a year later

Diane Duncan and her daughter Kelly are among the many who look forward to more family time.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

THE HERE & NOW: In this year of the emotional sneaker wave, there will be well-earned tears when we finally get to hug Mom: On the first anniversary of the pandemic shutdown that rocked our worlds unlike anything we have seen in living history, our Wallace Baine reflects on how we will be forever changed in this week’s The Here & Now column. He writes:

“Imagine attending a wedding — or, better yet, standing at the altar of a wedding — that was supposed to happen last summer, but didn’t. How are you going to get through your vows without soaking your rented tux with tears? This year, we’re going to see funerals and memorials for people who died months before and the expressions of grief may be wholly unlike such an occasion under pre-pandemic circumstances.”

Get out your box of tissues and read Wallace’s whole column here.

LOOKOUT LOOKS BACK: As we prepared to mark the one year anniversary of the global pandemic’s direct effects on Santa Cruzans, we realized so much has happened in the past 12 months that it can be hard to keep track. To that end, we built an interactive timeline to track the key milestones — grim, or otherwise — that we saw in Santa Cruz County. See the timeline here.

QUIZ: As life inches toward normalcy, how well do you know Santa Cruz history and culture? Soon, we’ll hopefully be seeing each other around town. But how well do you know the place we call home? Recently, the Lookout staff — the townies and the newbies — played a game of “How well do you know Santa Cruz?” For the outsiders like me, of course, it was an education. But even the locals learned some stuff from Wallace Baine. So, we thought we’d throw those questions to you, the readers, to see how much you know. Take the quiz here and share it with your friends to see if they can beat your score. (Only 13 people have become Grandmasters so far!)

Most middle school children in Watsonville have benefited from a visit to the Watsonville Wetlands. It’s a non-profit...

COVID 2021: Signs of hope

Last year, the customary mid-March Shakespearean warning was apt. Beware the ides of March indeed. But this year, considering we are still in the throes of a pandemic, things seem to be looking up. Today, a full year after the first shelter-in-place orders were issued in the county, there are three pieces of positive news:

No COVID patients in Watsonville Community Hospital: For the first time since November, Watsonville Community Hospital reported that they didn’t treat a single COVID-19 patient yesterday. Dominican Hospital, however, still treated seven patients. This is a huge difference from just 60 days ago. Read more about public health officials said yesterday in our COVID Today blog.

Rent relief applications open: Santa Cruz County tenants and landlords can now apply for a share of more than $16 million in federal funds “available to low-income renters and landlords impacted by the pandemic to help with rent, utilities and home energy costs; rent and utilities arrears; and related housing costs for eligible participants,” the county said in a news release. But while the program was meant to fully launch yesterday, some local community partners say the effort did not go off without a hitch. Read more about who qualifies, how to apply and what launch-day challenges officials faced in this story by our Patrick Riley.

After brief hold, high school football season back on track: A football season that was briefly put on hold for Santa Cruz County high schools on Friday is set for a re-start this week. An added bonus for families: Immediate household members will be allowed to attend games. Read more from our Mark Conley here.

SPECIAL REPORT: With world’s major kelp forests in jeopardy, sea otters coming to the rescue in Monterey Bay

A pair of otters share an embrace off the coast of Moss Landing.
A pair of otters share an embrace off the coast of Moss Landing.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)

LOOKOUT-INSIDE CLIMATE NEWS PARTNERSHIP: While juggling a wide variety of stories, Mallory Pickett, our astute environmental and health correspondent, has been working for weeks with our content partner Inside Climate News to sort through the conditions undermining kelp forests in the Pacific and beyond. What did she find with ICN’s Bob Berwyn? The work of otters, and a handful of humans, may be the only hope for crucial kelp ecosystems to survive in warming waters. The otters’ protection of surviving patches of kelp mirrors efforts humans are undertaking to mitigate the effects of the warming climate on this crucial ecosystem. Read the whole thing here.

MORE ENVIRONMENTAL COVERAGE: Cal Fire talks ‘drought and climate change’ while breaking down response to CZU Lightning Complex fires: Mallory also covered the first of two community meetings hosted by Cal Fire to explain their approach to battling the devastating August fires. The consistent message from Cal Fire was that the organization had been under-resourced and unprepared for a fire of this magnitude, which was unlike anything they had dealt with before. Read what Mallory learned last night and sign up to attend tonight’s meeting here.

‘Recall Newsom’ updates

Newsom won’t ‘take this recall attempt lying down’ as Democrats launch defense: Gov. Gavin Newsom lashed out yesterday at the effort by critics to remove him from office, calling it a “Republican recall” fueled by backers of former President Trump. A coalition of national Democratic leaders also spoke out against the recall, and the state party promised $250,000 for a campaign to defend Newsom. Read more about Newsom’s first public acknowledgment of the recall effort from the LA Times here.

What’s next?

  • Tomorrow is the deadline for recall supporters to submit all voter-signed petitions to elections offices. Last week, supporters said they had gathered some 2 million signatures, more than the roughly 1.5 million needed to trigger a recall election.
  • Elections officials have until April 29 to complete their review of the signatures to determine how many are valid.
  • If successful, the petition drive will lead to only the second gubernatorial recall election held in California and only the fourth in U.S. history.

You can read all the coverage about the ‘Recall Newsom’ effort on Lookout’s politics page.

Presented by UC Santa Cruz

Student Housing West offers the best route to creating more affordable housing for students and reducing housing...

Around the county . . .

UC Santa Cruz alum Gillian Welch takes home folk-music Grammy (Lookout Santa Cruz)

Santa Cruz County district attorney joins patient safety lawsuit against senior living giant Brookdale (Lookout Santa Cruz)

PVUSD, Food Bank partner in supporting families struggling with food insecurity (The Pajaronian)

Local Girl Scouts forge ahead with cookie sales amid the pandemic (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