Cover Stories

The 50 Very Santa Cruz Things That Got Us Through 2020

Paying tribute to the amazing people, places and events in Santa Cruz County

Doctors, nurses and staff at Sutter Health's Palo Alto Medical Foundation take a knee as part of the “White Coats for Black Lives" demonstrations in June. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

Yes, we all know 2020 sucked. Here are the amazing people, places and things in Santa Cruz County that got us through.

1 Let’s start with this: Where would we have been without firefighters this year? And yes, we definitely mean the volunteer brigades, too.

2 The surfer statue always seems to reflect what Santa Cruz is going through, and this year was no different. First of all, he did a better job of consistently wearing a mask than the entire state of Florida. And the firefighter tribute was a great look, too. But he didn’t forget his greatest hits, like the seasonal jack-o-lantern and Santa hat. 

3 Young Black activists stepped up in a huge way in Santa Cruz, showing how the Black Lives Matter movement could bring attention to important issues of race, racism and community locally. Nowhere, perhaps, was that more evident than the Juneteenth march that was both celebratory and unyielding in its participants’ demand for an end to police brutality and racial profiling.

4 When local schools feared students with no internet access would be completely shut out of online learning during the pandemic, Cruzio stepped up in a huge way with its Equal Access Santa Cruz program, working with the County Office of Education and the Pajaro Valley School District to bridge the digital divide by bringing free or subsidized high-speed internet to low-income families. 

5 So many health care professionals, grocery staffers, and other essential workers literally put their lives on the line so the rest of us could shelter-in-place. Perhaps the most overlooked of these were farmworkers, making the work of the Watsonville Campesino Appreciation Caravan so important. Not only did the group deliver lunches, Covid-19 safety resources, children’s books, census info and more to local farmworkers, but the caravan raised more than $30,000 through a GoFundMe to keep the appreciation effort going. 

Watsonville Campesino Appreciation Caravan, which has provided hundreds of farmworkers in the Pajaro Valley with supplies and information during the Covid-19 pandemic, was one of 20 awardees of Santa Cruz County CARES Act funding. PHOTO: Tony Nuñez

6 It was a big year for diversity in representation. There was the term of Mayor Justin Cummings as Santa Cruz’s first Black male mayor; the election of Mayor Donna Meyers, the town’s first lesbian mayor; and the election of Jimmy Dutra, Watsonville’s first LGBTQ mayor.

7 There were a lot of boring Zoom meetings we had to watch this year to keep up on Covid-19 developments. None of these featured UCSC professor and local infectious-disease go-to guy A. Marm Kilpatrick. Throughout the pandemic, this guy has been a compelling, tireless advocate for a common-sense approach to combating Covid-19 and keeping not just our community but the entire country as safe as possible. 

8 A new archway now offers a permanent reminder and way to honor the role of the former Chinatown in Santa Cruz’s legacy.  

9 The meaning behind the City Council-approved “Black Lives Matter” mural in front of Santa Cruz City Hall goes without saying—as does its significance. 

More than 500 people volunteered to paint the city’s permanent Black Lives Matter mural on Center Street that the Santa Cruz City Council unanimously approved in June. PHOTO: MAT WEIR

10 Reflecting an important national conversation, locals started dialogues about complicated figures like George Washington and how, or even whether, to remember them in public spaces.  

11 Our local nonprofit community absolutely outdid themselves this year, first scrambling to adjust to Covid-19, and then throwing themselves into the CZU fire evacuation and recovery effort. Whether it was the Animal Shelter pet-sitting in the burn zone, the Volunteer Center of Santa Cruz County staffing evacuation sites, or Hope Services providing activities for the developmentally disabled over Zoom, seemingly every nonprofit had to relearn how to best serve our community this year.

12 In gratitude, it seems, donors made this Santa Cruz Gives’ biggest year ever—by press time, our holiday giving drive had already raised more than even its stretch goal of $600,000 for 40 of the county’s hardest-working nonprofits.  

13 Not only did the “Love You Madly: Artists for Santa Cruz Fire Relief” campaign (both the weekly video drops and the fantastic livestream event that will be rebroadcast on Jan. 15—go to santacruzfirerelief.org for details) help raise a lot of money for fire victims, but, damn, it really hit us in the feels. Louie Pérez talking about how much Santa Cruz means to Los Lobos? John Doe of X singing us “Don’t Forget How Much I Love You?” We’re not crying, you’re crying!

14 That Love You Madly campaign was created to encourage donations to Community Foundation Santa Cruz County’s Fire Response Fund—which has been the center of our community’s attempt to aid fire victims as we attempt to wrap our minds around the scope of this disaster—and only begin to understand just how long the recovery will take. It’s one of so many ways the Community Foundation has lived up to its name this year, when we needed it most. 

15 As the smoke from the CZU Lightning Complex fire cleared, a debate flared both on Twitter—and at GT—over which Hollywood star Cal Fire Deputy Chief Jonathan Cox most resembles. Nominees included Roy Scheider, Topher Grace, the guy from Twin Peaks and the guy from Santa Clarita Diet

16 Santa Cruz resident Dave Andrade, a singer in the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus, won big on Wheel of Fortune. We assume drinks are on him when the bars reopen.

17 In August, glow-in-the-dark bioluminescent plankton filled up the ocean waves for a beautiful display. 

18 Recent Santa Cruz Warrior Kendrick Nunn played for the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals in September. He did well, and we felt proud.

19 The Board of Supervisors and Public Health Officer Dr. Gail Newel both declared racism a public health problem, and health care workers took a knee to send that same message.

20 Hands and mouths aren’t normally associated with cleanliness. But a charming “Clean Hands Save Lives” rebrand of the local Screaming Hand logo artwork did a great job reminding everyone to be safe.

21 Young activists hung a sign reading “OUR PLANET IS ON FIRE CLIMATE ACTION NOW” on the River Street sign—both powerfully true and an improvement for that sign.

enviornmental news
Climate activists hung a sign calling for climate action early on Dec. 11, 2020. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

22 The Santa Cruz Works-sponsored Ride Out the Wave effort supported businesses with tens of thousands of dollars in local gift card sales.

23 Led by the Tannery World Dance and Cultural Center’s Cat Willis, the innovative Black Health Matters program showed how an arts program could work to further both social justice and public health, bringing Covid-safe TWDCC “click and mortar” classes, cultural programs and health resources to county parks. The goal: bringing people and organizations (including the local NAACP, Blended Bridges, the SCC Black Coalition for Racial Justice and Equity and United Way of SC County) together to address how Covid-19 is disproportionately affecting the Black community, and promote healthy outdoor activities.

24 Watsonville reckoned with the anti-Filipino race riots of its past, issuing an official apology for the discrimination of the 1930s. 

25 Just when we thought we’d have to watch one of those Adam Sandler Netflix movies, the Rio Theatre stepped in with its Virtual Cinema program to fill the gap left by the shutdown of movie theaters. Meanwhile, the venue’s hilarious marquee messages filled that Rio-sized hole in our hearts. 

26 Working with city councilmembers, Santa Cruz beekeeper Donna Gardner hammered out reforms to the city code to eliminate permitting requirements for hive owners. The buzz is this will be good for local pollinators.

27 KSQD’s radio program “Cruz News and Views” launched, with host Nada Milijkovic and weekly contributions (every Wednesday at 3pm!) from reporters and editors at GT, the Pajaronian, and other Santa Cruz County media outlets. Now when we’re done writing local stories, we go on the radio and talk about the local news we just wrote. It’s kind of meta!

28 Local musicians—from singer-songwriters to rappers to the Santa Cruz Symphony—highlighted their creativity and adaptability by making the most of “quaranstreaming,” using the internet to share their music with the world when live music was a no-go. Dan Bern alone did, like, more than one a day there for a while! (And they were awesome.) 

Lindsey Wall and Anthony Arya performing for a ‘Save Our Music’ quaranstream on May 16. PHOTO: JAKE J. THOMAS

29 Art and museum organizations across Santa Cruz County took their exhibits virtual, ensuring we can all still safely learn about local history and peruse art.    

30 In February, a Twitter thread of journalists who had Santa Cruz ties picked up momentum. Ezra Klein, Jesse Thorn, Stephanie Foo and Sean Rameswaram all chimed in, waxing about Good Times and about how much they love Santa Cruz. 

31 Leave it to Santa Cruzans to design masks with creative slogans, and even some f-bombs, to remind people to keep their distance and help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus. 

32 Three years ago, Bill Simpkins imagined a multimillion-dollar sports complex in Live Oak where local kids could play soccer, run and picnic with their families. In May, that vision was realized when the artificial-turf field with surrounding running track and picnic area opened at Shoreline Middle School. Decades after bringing us the Simpkins Swim Center, the guy still knows how to get things done.

33 The designer/artists behind Pivot, Tina Brown and Rose Sellery, had plenty of obstacles to hurdle if they wanted to keep Santa Cruz’s premiere fashion event alive during the pandemic. So what did they do? They doubled down by not only making the runway show into a film, but then turning it back into a live event by showing the film as a drive-in screening at the Boardwalk. And a spectacular show it was, one of Pivot’s best ever.

Part of ‘Pivot in the Pandemic,’ the film version of the annual art show presented by Santa Cruz-based fashion presenter Pivot: The Art of Fashion. Design: Peter Esparza. Photo: Victoria Medina

34 Speaking of drive-ins, did we mention drive-ins came back in every possible way? Whether it was DNA’s drive-in comedy shows, the Boardwalk’s drive-in movie series, or even Mira Goto’s pickup concerts (which were kind of a reverse drive-in, since she did the driving), we were lucky to have all of them bringing movies, music and comedy back into our lives in the most live way the pandemic allowed.

35 Mountain musicians collaborated virtually on a moving cover of Cat Stevens’ “Peace Train” in May to spark solidarity amid the pandemic.  

36 Victory gardens made a comeback as people decided to dig in and make the most of having more time at home.  

37 The young volunteers of the Teen Kitchen Project increased their production by 100% over three months to meet the need for fresh-cooked and delivered meals for people in need.

38 There were many NBA things to be happy with—the NBA season restart in the Orlando bubble, the NBA strike for social justice reasons and the NBA restart restarting. 

39 Before stay-at-home orders began, GT News Editor Jacob Pierce performed comedy at DNA’s Comedy Lab on March 4—the venue’s last in-person Friday night show before it became the first local business to close due to the pandemic. We love the virtual shows, and hope the Lab can one day reopen somewhere, somehow (see DNA’s perspective here). 

Santa Cruz comedian DNA had a little fun with the marquee in the front of his business. PHOTO: JACOB PIERCE

40 State Senator Bill Monning bestowed a certificate of recognition on Good Times in November, “in appreciation for your commitment to journalistic integrity, community building, and the promotion of local arts and culture.” Monning praised GT for coverage that has “served to keep readers informed” and been “always inclusionary of all sectors of our diverse communities.” 

41 Santa Cruz’s own Oliver Tree delivered the late-night-TV performance of the year on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert in October, doing “Life Goes On.” Dude did a vertical flip on a scooter! And then rode another, gigantic scooter? And flew the American flag upside down! If you didn’t understand why we’ll watch anything this guy does before, you probably do now. 

42 With Event Santa Cruz, Matthew Swinnerton has made a career out of bringing people together and keeping the vibe of Santa Cruz alive. We’re not able to gather in person, but events can happen online. And so a year marked by wildfires, an international pandemic and social isolation have made Swinnerton’s virtual efforts more impactful than ever. 

43 Santa Cruz County’s beaches reopened in June

44 The Carolyn Sills Combo’s “Ghost Reindeer in the Sky” video. Don’t even ask, just go watch it right now. We’ll wait. 

45 There were a lot of great causes to support this year, but for some reason it was particularly heartwarming when the community showed up to save Oswald Restaurant. It wasn’t an event, or even an organized campaign, really—just owner Damani Thomas laying out the reality that the dining-scene fixture couldn’t survive without some financial help. He set a GoFundMe goal of $10,000—and got more than double that in 24 hours, ultimately raising more than $40,000. The comments were filled with fans remembering all of the times that Thomas had donated his own money, time and talent to local causes—not to mention all the great meals they’ve had at Oswald, and the ones they look forward to in the future.

46 Stay-at-home orders dealt devastating blows to many businesses, bookstores included. The good news is that lately many of us have had more time to buy books from Bookshop Santa Cruz and actually read them

47 The New York Jets signed and drafted Santa Cruz High School grad Ashtyn Davis. Go Ashtyn!

48 The CA Notify app allowed Californians to find out if they may have been exposed to the novel coronavirus, just by adjusting their phone settings. 

49 In-person art carried on safely with outdoor events like the “Color Our Street! Chalk Art Event” on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. 

Dennis Scott of Santa Cruz draws a giraffe on Pacific Avenue in downtown Santa Cruz. PHOTO: TARMO HANNULA

50 You know who really got us through 2020? Our readers! For continuing to pick us up every week and checking out our daily stories online, for offering feedback on what we’re doing well and can do better, and for donating and subscribing to help keep us in business through the toughest year of our existence, we say a heartfelt “thank you.” We couldn’t have done it without you, and we look forward to great things in 2021!

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Jamie lafollette

    December 30, 2020 at 6:24 pm

    You forgot scotts valley high school adapting their 15 year running haunted house to a family friendly drive through event! They raised over $20,000 for leukemia and lymphoma society and remotely involved over 150 students allowing them to earn community service hours needed to graduate.

  2. Doug Erickson

    December 30, 2020 at 9:50 am

    Steve – thank you for the wonderful article reflecting on what has been a year we would love to forget. And thank you for mentioning Santa Cruz Works. An important correction: our Ride Out the Wave campaign delivered hundreds of thousands to local businesses, not tens of thousands. The facts can be found at: https://www.santacruzworks.org/news/wave-ridden-out?rq=greeninger

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