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Morning Lookout: Drought and a weekend fire, all hail Haley, and more

Good Morning! It’s Monday, May 3, and it’ll be sunny with a high of 77.

Over the weekend, fire crews battled a 6.7-acre fire in the Santa Cruz Mountains, just another sign of what officials are expecting to be a busy fire season. In fact, county residents will now need a permit from CalFire to conduct backyard burning as conditions become hotter and drier. But with rainfall dwindling, how worried should Santa Cruzans be about the drought this year and how will it impact fire season? Our Mallory Pickett tries to answer those questions.

On the lighter side, yesterday the city of Santa Cruz celebrated hometown hero and Stanford hoops sensation Haley Jones, the young female athlete of color with a major accomplishment under her belt just two years into her college career. And all indications are pointing towards a more normal summer, with the May music events calendar filling up fast. We’ll also be talking recovery Tuesday with our panelists for our “Santa Cruz Eats” event. You can register for free here.

One last thing before we get to the news: If you want to stay abreast of all the big goings-on as they’re happening, I suggest you sign up for our free Breaking News Text Alerts here or text the word BREAKING to (831) 387-7662.

With that, here are your headlines:

How serious is this drought and what does it mean for fire season?

Loch Lomond Reservoir is currently at 71.7% capacity.
Loch Lomond Reservoir is currently at 71.7% capacity.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Rainfall in the Santa Cruz Mountains stands at about 50% of normal, and as April rolls into May the chance for more rain is pretty much over. As drought grips California and other parts of the West — and the Santa Cruz Mountains and elsewhere are still recovering from last year’s historic wildfires — two related questions are top of mind: Should Santa Cruzans be worried about severe water shortages, as well as a repeat of last year’s fires? There’s a lot to unpack on both subjects, so Lookout’s Mallory Pickett dives in to the details here.

Cal Fire suspends backyard burns in Santa Cruz County unless residents get permits

Cal Fire firefighters conduct Bonny Doon Cal Fire clean up dead trees from the understory in preparation for fire season.
(Kevin Painchaud/Lookout Santa Cruz)

Dry vegetation and hotter, drier conditions caused by climate change are prompting Cal Fire to end this year’s backyard burn season within the “state responsibility area” of Santa Cruz County, officials announced yesterday as crews battled a 6.7-acre fire in Big Basin State Park. This suspension bans all residential outdoor burning of landscape debris — such as branches and leaves. Read more, including what this means for campfires, here.

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Illuminée Studio and other local businesses are staying strong during the pandemic thanks in part to Santa Cruz County...

Enrollment dipped across many Santa Cruz County public schools last fall, threatening ‘huge impact’

A newcomer's English language development grades 6-8 student

For the first time in nearly a decade, countywide public school enrollment fell below 40,000 in the fall. Enrollment had already been on a downward slide within Santa Cruz County since 2014, a trend attributed at least in part to families picking up and moving due to the area’s high cost of living. But the pandemic accelerated that slide into a loss that — if it doesn’t rebound — could leave some local districts needing to cut down on staff and possibly even close schools in the years ahead, education officials warn. Read more from our Nick Ibarra here.

Putting some pop back into downtown: Santa Cruz initiates pop-up program to stimulate a renaissance

The vacant storefronts of downtown Santa Cruz.
(Via City of Santa Cruz)

In an effort to breathe new life into downtown as Santa Cruz recovers from the pandemic, the city will subsidize up to a dozen pop-up businesses in vacant storefronts. The “Downtown Pops!” plan spearheaded by the city’s economic development department has been in the works for several months as part of a larger effort to revitalize the local economy after a year that devastated not only lives, but Santa Cruz’s bottom line. Read more from Isabella Cueto here.

Hometown hero: Haley Jones gets a parade and a key to the city

Haley Jones gets key to city
(Jaden Schaul/For Lookout Santa Cruz)

Haley Jones took over the Final Four in San Antonio a month ago, leading the Stanford women to their first NCAA championship in 29 years. So it’s only right that she also took over her hometown for an afternoon yesterday. The Stanford sophomore and Santa Cruz native received the vaunted “Key To The City” during a ceremony at Santa Cruz City Hall. That was preceded by a procession of vehicles that rolled down Pacific Avenue honking and cheering. Read more and see photos here.

Musical May rebirth: FMH’s Roaring Camp shows kick off array of live offerings at Moe’s, Dream Inn and more

The Dream Inn as vertical concert venue on Halloween.
(Courtesy Dream Inn)

Historically, the month of May has always served as a kind of dress rehearsal for the summer performance season. It’s when the late, great Santa Cruz Blues Festival happened each year, to name one example. But emerging from the torpor of the year-long pandemic, this May seems even more full of good portents. From tunes at Felton’s newest live music venue to dreamy vertical beach shows at the Dream Inn, our Wallace Baine has a bit of what the month has in store here.

TOMORROW: Top chefs to chop it up with Lookout — Join us for ‘Santa Cruz Eats!’

File image of burger and fries on plate
(via Pixabay)

Enough with those carry-out containers! With a full reopening on the horizon in June, Lookout has assembled a trio of top chefs to discuss their survival skills amid the pandemic and, more importantly, their plans for serving people who are hungry for social interaction, ambiance, and, of course, good food and drink. Join us at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 4, for this free, virtual event. Read more about the panelists here and register for the event here.

Recall Newsom updates

Screengrab of Recall Gavin Newsom website

How three political novices with turbulent pasts helped spark the Newsom recall: Over the last several months, the movement to unseat the governor has gained momentum through a mixture of grassroots organizing and traditional campaigning and fundraising, engineered by the GOP’s national and statewide party apparatuses. The movement has largely been led by “The three musketeers,” as the fans call them, consisting of Realtor Mike Netter, retired Yolo County sheriff’s sergeant Orrin Heatlie, 52, and one time newspaper reporter Randy Economy, 61. Read more about the people behind the movement in this story by the LA Times.

Democratic leaders rally behind Newsom to fight recall, but how enthusiastic is the grassroots? The stated purpose of the California Democratic Party’s online convention over the weekend was to do the boring business of party politics: drafting rules, passing resolutions and electing new leaders or re-electing old ones. But the weekend’s virtual meet-up also served another obvious political purpose: To rally the party’s often quarrelsome troops behind Gov. Gavin Newsom as a recall election looms. Read more from our partners at CalMatters here.

Around the county …

Watsonville votes to support Rail Trail business plan ahead of big RTC meeting next week (Lookout Santa Cruz)

Commercial salmon season starts in Monterey Bay (KSBW-TV)

An insider’s guide to spring wildflowers at Quail Hollow (San Lorenzo Valley Post)

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