A year ago, we here at Lookout Santa Cruz attempted to make sense of the traumatic year that has just passed and the uncertain year ahead. We did this by putting together a list of local people whose collective experience of 2020 defined this traumatic year for many in Santa Cruz County, and whose positions in the community made them pivotal figures of what was to come. arrive in 2021.
We called our series “21 for 21”, a collection of profiles of people in government, agriculture, education, the arts, housing, business, faith, healthcare, technology and activism. It was, of course, an unstable moment in the history of the local community and the nation.
The very first COVID-19 vaccines had just been rolled out, and the vast majority of people were still months away from their first vaccine. Much of the economy was essentially frozen. Political legitimacy was also an open question in those agonizing days between Election Day and Inauguration Day. And, in many areas of Santa Cruz County, the ground was still smoking from the most devastating forest fire in the region’s history.
It is from this point of view that our subjects had to both look back at what they had experienced and forward what might come to them. A year later, we thought we’d check with a few of them to look back at 2021, the year of the vaccine, the Delta variant – and now Omicron – and the long shadow of the pandemic.
Among those we profiled were housing activists Sibley Simon and Phil Kramereducators Jennifer Buesig and Jason Borgen, scientist Marm Kilpatrick, artists Kathleen Crocetti and Cat Willis, activists Bella Bonner, Ruby Vasquez and Rabbi Paula Marcus, public officials Ryan Coonerty and Bonnie Lipscomb, businessmen Ann Morhauser and Toby Corey and community problem solvers MariaElena de la Garza, Juan Morales-Rocha, Creedence Shaw, Jacob Martinez, Hallie Greene, Leslie Conner and staff at Community foundation.
A year after the events, the traumas of 2020 still occupy an important place and stubbornly refuse to be erased in the past. The most striking example is, of course, the pandemic. But the CZU fires of August 2020 proved to be just as difficult to shake.
The Community Foundation established a fire victim relief fund shortly after the fires started. Foundation CEO Susan True said the fund is more critical now than it was when the fire started.
âIn the early days of the evacuation,â said True, âwe are helping people rent emergency accommodation, take care of animals, get gas cards so they can get out of town. . It was very crisis driven.
But it was in 2021 that homeowners and those displaced by the fire learned what insurance covered and didn’t cover, and whether they could count on loans from FEMA or the Small Business Administration to help themselves. get back on track. It was that year that they really started to rebuild their lives for good.
âNow we’re working with a group of people in long-term recovery,â True said. âOh, you need a water tank, we’ll do it for you. Do you need a massage table to resume your work as a massage therapist? We can help you with that.
Likewise, the needs stemming from the persistent COVID-19 pandemic have not diminished significantly. Until the schools finally opened, parents were often unable to work due to the lack of childcare. Businesses continued to struggle to find employees, and inflationary pressures and the still high cost of living forced many people still grappling with debts incurred in 2020.
Even though ’21 hasn’t been as melodramatic as the year before, True said there hasn’t been a drop in donors to help neighbors recover from 2020. On the contrary, “we’re on. on track for another banner year for investing in this community. “
True said donations to the Community Foundation have grown from around $ 12 million in 2019 to around $ 20 million in 2020. âAnd we’re on the verge of exceeding that number this year,â she said. declared.
Rabbi Paula Marcus of Beth El Temple in Aptos told us a year ago that 2020 has been so painful for his followers due to the isolation of not being able to be together, resulting in the postponement of the bar / bat mitzvah and funeral conducted on Zoom. For Marcus, 2021 has been a year of catching up.
âIt’s been a wild summer,â she said of her efforts to catch up with all those postponed bar and bat mitzvahs. âOh my God, every week was crazy. Sometimes on Saturdays there were two. It was crazy.”
Before the pandemic and throughout 2020, Marcus balanced his duties as rabbi with his commitment to activism in the county in general. The turbulence of 2020, she said, has given way to solid ground from which to move forward. âLooking at all the issues that have arisen around racism and injustice,â she said, âwe don’t sleep anymore. There is certainly a division in the country. But I think a lot of us are just more aware of our history, whether it’s the Jewish community or people of color, we pay attention in a different way. And maybe the pandemic helped with that, because we were all trapped in our homes, watching and reading. “
In the Pajaro Valley in 2020, a group of volunteers created the âCampesino Caravanâ to reach out to agricultural workers in the area, show them their appreciation for the work they are doing at this time of âessential workerâ and collect funds to provide workers with necessary supplies in uncertain times. PVUSD educator Ruby Vasquez led the effort to go to the fields, up to three times a week during the height of the pandemic, to provide workers with gifts, supplies, encouragement, hot meals and information crucial to health.
A year later, the caravan is still active, but not as regularly as in 2020. Earlier this month, the caravan volunteers met and decided to continue the service until 2022. The goal this year has been helping farm workers navigate the details of available vaccines and to provide news and information on COVID-19 variants. Private donations have declined since the group gained national media attention in the spring of 2020, Vasquez said, but the group received a $ 10,000 grant from the California State Association of Counties to continue their efforts. The caravan continues to raise funds from individuals to help farm workers in the county.
The caravan will continue to go to the fields and provide workers with gift cards for food and essentials, but also to let them know they are appreciated.
âWe felt like it was a service that doesn’t seem to be happening through another source,â Vasquez said. âAnd we decided that even if we went out once or twice a month, it would at least continue a sort of coherent awareness raising to the peasants. We started our message with a simple “Thank you for your work”. And these workers, that’s what they really appreciate, that someone took the time to come out and thank them. “
Third District Supervisor Ryan Coonerty experienced a year like no other in his long public service career in 2020. He not only chaired the county’s response to both the pandemic shutdown and the CZU fires – much of the most devastated burn area was in his district. – he also lost a close friend when his assistant Allison Endert was killed in an accident.
A year ago, Coonerty held his breath that this first quarter of 2021 could see an improvement in people’s lives from the pandemic. “We are not out of the woods yet,” he said. “But I feel like in the latter half (of 2021) things got a little clearer and easier. Omicron is scary, but I feel like our vaccination numbers are among the best. The kids are back to school and things are getting closer to normal. I feel like we still have some ups and downs to do. But the car hasn’t gone off the tracks, which seemed like a very real possibility around the same time last year.
A year ago, Coonerty was also planning another term as supervisor. But in the spring of 2021, after “a few long walks with family and friends”, he decided not to stand again at the end of his current mandate at the end of 2022.
âBeing a lame duck is actually a very enjoyable experience,â he said, âbecause you can vote however you want to vote and work on the things you want to work on.â
After 2022, Coonerty said he would âbenefit a lot from privacy. I will continue to teach. I have a book that I want to write, advise, and hopefully coach a kid or two’s sports teams. But I’m really not going to be in public life. I will find ways to always be there for my community and try to help in any way I can. But I think it’s time for others to step in and move the community forward in whatever direction they choose.
In the meantime, it’s one more year on the supervisory board. He said he was aware of the limited number of meetings and votes he had before him to get things done and “there is going to be some pressure to deliver.” But, as he prepares for 2022, he still sees evidence that the community still has the courage to outlast whatever may be in store.
âPeople have opened their homes to fire victims,â Coonerty said, reflecting on the lessons of 2020. âPeople have supported nonprofits and small businesses. People have gathered around the community to support each other. It is in this context of (political) division that we are witnessing. I think it will take more collaboration to maintain these new relationships. But with the proof of how people came together (in 2020), I think this will continue. “