CVIndependent

Fri10302020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

There is SO MUCH NEWS—and we’re not even including anything about the vice-presidential debate or the president’s recent Tweetstorm.

So let’s get right to it:

• As sort-of portended in this space last week, Riverside County’s COVID-19 numbers are heading in a bad direction—and as a result, the county could slide back into the most-restrictive “widespread” (purple) tier as soon as next Tuesday. While the state calculates our positivity rate as 5 percent, which is good enough to keep us in the red, “substantial” tier, our adjusted cases-per-100,000 number is now 7.6—more than the 7.0 limit. The county also did not meet the just-introduced equity metric, which “ensure(s) that the test positivity rates in its most disadvantaged neighborhoods … do not significantly lag behind its overall county test positivity rate.” What does this all mean? It means that if our numbers don’t improve, businesses including gyms, movie theaters and indoor dining will have to close again.

• A glimmer of hope: Today’s county Daily Epidemiology Summary indicates that, as shown in the yellow box on the last page, the county’s positivity rate seems to be heading back downward.

The county Board of Supervisors yesterday decided NOT to set up a more-lenient business-opening timetable, thereby avoiding a potentially costly showdown with the state. Instead, the supes voted 4-1, according to the Riverside Press-Enterprise, to “seek clarity on whether group meetings, like the kind held in hotels and conference centers, that primarily involve county residents can take place with limits on attendance. Supervisors also want to know whether wedding receptions can be held with attendance caps.

• After weeks of gradual improvement, the Coachella Valley’s numbers are also heading in the wrong direction, according to the weekly Riverside County District 4 report. (District 4 consists of the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) The weekly local positivity rate went up to 12.6 percent, and hospitalizations saw a modest uptick. Worst of all, two more of our neighbors passed away from COVID-19.

Well this is horrifying. According to The New York Times: “The FDA proposed stricter guidelines for emergency approval of a coronavirus vaccine, but the White House chief of staff objected to provisions that would push approval past Election Day.”

• Meanwhile, a man named William Foege, who headed the CDC under both GOP and Dem presidents, wants current CDC Director Robert Redfield to fall on his figurative sword: “A former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and public health titan who led the eradication of smallpox asked the embattled, current CDC leader to expose the failed U.S. response to the coronavirus, calling on him to orchestrate his own firing to protest White House interference,” according to USA Today.

• A tweet from the governor’s office over the weekend has led to some unflattering national attention. As explained by CBS News: “The California governor’s office put out a tweet on Saturday advising that restaurant-goers keep their masks on while dining. ‘Going out to eat with members of your household this weekend?’ the tweet reads. ‘Don’t forget to keep your mask on in between bites. Do your part to keep those around you healthy.’” I am all for mask-wearing … but in between bites?

It appears Coachella will be delayed yet again: “Multiple music-industry insiders now tell Rolling Stone that the 21st edition of the popular music festival will be pushed a third time, to October 2021.”

ICE raids in “sanctuary” cities across California have led to 128 arrests in recent weeks—a move decried by administration critics as a political stunt. According to the San Francisco Chronicle: “The nation’s top immigration officials disclosed the results of Operation Rise during an unusual press conference Wednesday in Washington, D.C., slamming sanctuary jurisdictions and doubling down on the need to secure the country’s borders.

• Gov. Newsom had a busy day today. Most importantly, he announced that “an intern in (his) administration and another state employee who interacted with members of the governor’s staff have both tested positive for COVID-19, though neither came in contact with Newsom or his top advisors,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

• Newsom revealed that Disney Chairman Bob Iger had stepped down from his economic-recovery task force—in part because Newsom refuses to offer a pathway for the state’s theme parks to reopen. According to Deadline: “When asked about Iger’s departure, Newsom said: ‘It didn’t come to me as a surprise at all. There’s disagreements in terms of opening a major theme park. We’re going to let science and data make that determination.’

The governor also announced he had signed yet another executive order, this time in an effort to preserve at least 30 percent of California’s land and coastal waters by 2030. According to the San Jose Mercury News: “Newsom signed an executive order directing the state’s Natural Resources Agency to draw up a plan by Feb. 1, 2022, to achieve the goal in a way that also protects the state’s economy and agriculture industry, while expanding and restoring biodiversity.

• Our partners at CalMatters are reporting that in an effort to cut down on fraud, state officials are freezing unemployment accounts—but they’re often freezing the accounts of innocent people: “In what appears to be the latest problem at the besieged state Employment Development Department, unemployed Californians say their accounts are being erroneously frozen, leaving them unable to access a financial lifeline amid the pandemic. Reports surfaced last week and continued over the weekend with beneficiaries reporting their Bank of America accounts—where benefits are deposited and spent—frozen, closed or drained of money.

• An engineering professor, writing for The Conversation, says that a contagious person’s location in a room will help determine who else in that room is exposed to SARS-CoV-2. Read up on the emerging science here.

Wait, the coronavirus can cause diabetes now? Wired reports that scientists are looking into that very real possibility.

• The Washington Post looks at how restaurants are reinventing themselves to survive the pandemic. Restaurant critic Tom Sietsema writes: “At least in Washington, at least this season, more restaurants seem to be opening than closing, and unlike in the spring, when I penned a tear-streaked mash note to the industry I feel grateful to cover, fall feels ripe for a pulse check, even a dining guide to reflect on the smart ways the market has responded to the blow of a global crisis.

Facebook announced today it will stop running all political ads for about a week, after Election Day. It will also do this, per CNBC: “Additionally, Facebook on Wednesday announced that it will ‘remove calls for people to engage in poll watching when those calls use militarized language or suggest that the goal is to intimidate, exert control, or display power over election officials or voters.’” Baby steps …

• Gustavo Arellano, now a columnist for the Los Angeles Times, tells the story of Ivette Zamora Cruz, a Rancho Mirage resident who publishes a Spanish-language magazine, La Revista. When the Black Lives Matter protests took place in June, she decided she needed to take action—by dedicating the latest issue of her magazine to Black voices. Arellano writes: “She began to cold-call Black businesses with offers of free ads, and asked Black writers and photographers via Instagram to submit their work. The issue published in August with profiles of Black artists and activists, and a historical timeline of police violence against Black people in the United States.” It’s a fantastic story.

• Here’s another local story from the Los Angeles Times, and this one is rather disconcerting: “Joining the growing—and increasingly controversial—list of American art museums that have sold or are preparing to sell major paintings from their permanent collections, the Palm Springs Art Museum is finalizing discussions to bring Helen Frankenthaler’s monumental 1979 canvas ‘Carousel’ to market, according to multiple people with knowledge of the plan.” Also: Art critic Christopher Knight points out that this isn’t the first time Museum Director Louis Grachos has been involved with a controversial museum-art sale.

• And finally, Fat Bear Week has a winner. Get to know the portly pre-hibernation fella nicknamed 747.

That’s enough for today. Please help support this Daily Digest and the other work the Independent does by becoming a Supporter of the Independent; we really could use your support. Be safe—and thanks for reading!

Published in Daily Digest

Indio calls itself as the “City of Festivals,” and is home to the Empire Polo Club, where every year since 2001—except this year—folks from around the world have flocked to the world-famous Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival.

However, Indio is much more than the home of Coachella. It’s the Coachella Valley’s largest city by population, and has some of the area’s highest COVID-19 rates. It’s in the midst of a redevelopment effort, led by a new College of the Desert campus—but those efforts are being challenged by the economic downturn.

In other words, the winner of this year’s two contested City Council races will have a lot on their plates.

In District 5, incumbent and four-time Mayor Guadalupe Ramos Amith is facing challengers Frank Ruiz and Erick Lemus Nadurille. The Independent recently spoke with them and asked each of them the same set of questions, covering issues from how can the city better curb the spread of COVID-19, to what can be done to lower violent crime in the city. What follows below are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

Erick Lemus Nadurille, community health organizer

What is the No. 1 issue facing the city of Indio in 2021?

Access to health care is going to be a very strong issue in 2021, and that (applies) to the re-opening, to keeping the residents safe and to keep businesses afloat. We are going to have to take precautions in terms of adding health modifications to small businesses, providing more PPE (personal protective equipment) for residents, and providing health and human resources to residents though city budget funding for both tenant and commercial rental assistance. We’re losing jobs; we’re losing hours at work, so the more we keep people less exposed to the pandemic, and keep them safe at work and staying indoors and less burdened by socio-economic factors, it’s going to make a big change in the way our city can continue to thrive in the future.

The city of Indio has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other city in the Coachella Valley. What can the city do better to reduce the infection rates among its residents?

I think a healthy community is a productive community. We have to keep rent and mortgages paid to prevent defaults. That will put people in a better situation to participate in the local economy. So, first, I think that we have to make sure that the local economy stays open. And we’ll have to look at the mental health of our residents and business (people). There’s just so much happening to everybody. Everyone has lost something. Everybody is passing through a grievance, or a situation that’s very hard. So we have to make sure that we’re investing in mental health and mental-health nourishment. Folks, at least, have to be able to take one step forward, and begin that mental healing process. That goes back to how the city of Indio prioritizes future budgeting of any CARES funding that we may get.

We’re continuing to put economic pressure on folks to keep working, or maybe to sell their house. But we know that the best prevention method is to keep folks indoors, or keep them social-distanced in public spaces. We know that folks are going out, so we have to make sure that our small businesses have the capacity to do these health modifications by offering PPE, or with expanded outside seating and providing PPE to (their employees) as well. Some of these small businesses are already being hit hard and are trying to stay afloat. But they have no money for all this extra equipment. So it really becomes a systemic issue with very little city funding support. There are a lot of great county programs and support from that end, but that’s the bigger picture of serving a broader population. If the city could say, ‘We are going to prioritize health in our city budget,’ then we could take preventive measures and not just leave it in the hands of the county. It’s really about the city not being a leader, right? We should be leading an innovative approach (as a model) to the rest of the Coachella Valley, because we are the city with one of the highest COVID rates in the entire valley.

During 2019, incidents of violent crime in Indio increased over 2018. What can the city do to decrease those numbers moving forward?

Again, I think it goes back to the socioeconomic pressures. I’m an advocate for disadvantaged communities as well, and one of the factors we’re (aware of) is that disadvantaged communities look to crime to provide for their families (due) to desperation. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes, these families have nothing else to do. They’ve already maxed out their credit cards, and they’ve already lost their jobs. Indio is a tragically disadvantaged community. So if we look at how we can support, in terms of (crime) prevention, how available is the city support in these communities? How do these (residents) view the city’s support in terms of social services? That’s not very clear in the city of Indio. We definitely need to make sure that our public safety is present, but present in a way that they’re also expanding their services. I’ve already seen where they’re bringing social workers to some fights. I’m actually very proud of that, because it tells residents that we’re not here just to police you, but we’re here to support you. So, sometimes in these neighborhoods, there’s a stigma where, when people see police, they’re automatically scared or disturbed by the police presence.

Now, the city just got CARES funding to the tune of about $30 million to (allocate) to public safety. (Editor’s note: According to an Aug. 19 article in The Desert Sun, the total amount of CARES funding received by the city was $1.12 million.) That says that the city is investing in preventative measures. That’s a decision that I probably would have revisited in terms of (allocating) that much money. But if the city is investing that much money into the police, then it’s giving the message that the city needs this. So we should be able to see a difference (in crime levels) in our community if the city believes that investing in public safety is the way to stop crime.

Being a health and human services advocate, I’m more about prevention and making sure that there are community spaces where people are being heard on the issues that affect them the most. Sometimes, though, the city is not going to be the proper medium for people to talk about these spaces. We need culturally competent service providers and organizations to help facilitate these types of meetings about socioeconomic justice. Problems are happening, and again, it goes back to the residents not feeling supported, and that’s why they turn to crime. They don’t see opportunity in their city when there are no jobs, and no visible support. But I think if the socio-economic burdens were eased a bit through rental and utility assistance, then we would see folks be less willing to turn to crime.

Back in June, when the Indio City Council passed a budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, some reserves were drawn upon to balance the budget. The new budget projects more than $135 million in revenues. Given the economic uncertainty, if those revenue numbers fall short, what cuts or new revenue opportunities would you propose that the city pursue?

In the case of any shortfalls that may occur, I think we have to look at what makes sense specifically for our residents. For example, we shouldn’t stop fixing our streets, because they just get more expensive to fix over time. We may need to stay the course with our current pause on new hires. Also, if necessary, we may need our (city) staff members to take a (salary) hit, as have many of our residents. Overall, the city staff members are paid extremely well in comparison to the average resident in Indio. I think we may need to ask them to take a temporary pay cut, so that we can meet at least the basic needs of our residents. Everybody is going through some very hard times right now, and although we don’t want to make everybody take a hit, we have to level out the playing field better. Our residents are taking a hit, so we should consider making that sacrifice for our residents.

But we are in a very good position in the arts and entertainment culture. That encompasses a lot of what we can do to reposition ourselves with the music-festival industry. I don’t foresee us having a very long shutdown in the public arts. Obviously, we’re going to continue to have these big festivals happen, so we can pivot to continue a stream of revenue that’s city-based events (with) health modifications to the productions. I think that the city of Indio can uplift itself to be on the cutting edge of (finding ways) to improve its economy.

Also, I think Mark Scott (the interim Indio city manager) said it best at the last city council meeting: The city has yet to look at the cannabis industry and how that can play into the future of the city. This topic has been shelved for a long time, and I agree with Mark Scott that it’s about time they think about how these new businesses could help diversify the city economy and tax revenues. This industry could be deemed an essential health business and be included in the conversation of how it could supplement the health policy. Also, we should look at whether different types of cannabis businesses that aren’t just based on commercial product, but involve more of health and holistic approach, can be developed in Indio. So, if Indio focuses on cannabis businesses taking more of a health and holistic approach, it could be very different from what other cities in the valley are doing. And that increased tax revenue could be very significant for the city. That way, we would have more money to fill in the gaps where we’re currently losing revenue.

Certainly, one of the last things that I think residents would want is any new tax, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. So we need to think about what infrastructure we already have for cultural events, and always keep health a priority, and that should help us expand (our economy) into the future.

What topic or issue impacting Indio should we have asked you about, and what are your thoughts on it?

My main concern, and the reason I’m really running, is to give a voice and visibility to the youth, who are not traditionally heard. Being a millennial myself, I want to be a voice for future leaders. We’re privileged to have strong leaders here in Indio, and, we need to make sure that we have room to grow here in Indio. We have to do everything possible (to support) education. The city has provided (support) to the teen center, the Kennedy Elementary School and the COD expansion. That addresses high school age youth, young adults and college age youth. But for the future, if we want to continue to harbor our youth here in the city of Indio, we have to think about how to support that workforce. We need to provide more jobs that are acceptable to our youth, so that they can stay here, shop here and raise families here. In terms of those opportunities, they aren’t (here now). If youth is going to live here, the housing market is not designed (for them). Where I live in Indio, I’m paying $1,600 per month for a two-bedroom apartment. That’s not feasible for someone who is young and trying to grow here. So we need to look at housing options for people from different income brackets, and (provide) a pathway to home ownership. That’s not been the case with the traditional housing platform that (focuses) on bigger homes. We should really think about accessible dwelling units, which are little tiny homes, and begin to provide those solutions. And it’s not just for youth; it’s for families and veterans and the elderly. It’s becoming more expensive to live here in the city of Indio.

In order to retain our local economy and grow it, we have to make sure that our housing economy is suited to diverse types of folks, and not just specifically for people who live here three months out of each year. This is what’s hindering our youth from living here independently, and from developing their professional pathway. We won’t be able to grow our youth into potential civic leaders, because they won’t be able to afford to stay here.

Another example is: I’m running for the District 5 (seat), and there are really no parks (in my district) for families. We don’t have something as simple as having a place for youth to go and keep out of trouble. Recently, I went to a city parks meeting, where they discussed building one on Avenue 44 and Jackson (Street), I believe. Unfortunately, that location, which is close to the freeway, won’t help youth who don’t have transportation. This park is only going to serve folks who live around it. So the city needs to start thinking about transportation, housing and entertainment that’s geared to helping the youth thrive, and stay connected and feel like they’re supported by their city. Not to say that they’re not trying to do that, but there has to be more for diverse youth, not just high school and college youth.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Running for City Council. (Laughs.) Seriously, finding creative new ways to stay connected has been important for me. As a community organizer, I thrive at community events. I like being around people, and we don’t have that any more, right now. So I’ve had to find ways to let people know that I’m still in touch. We have all of these social-media platforms like Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter, and I’ve been someone who has kept it pretty simple. But I’ve had to expand my social-media-app collection to stay connected. Right now, it’s an issue for everybody that we’re isolated and can’t communicate how we’re feeling. We’re on our own, and this isolation is having a mental effect on us. So, any way that we can’t let people know that, ‘Hey! I’m here for you,’ and ask, ‘How are you?’ is something I’ve been trying to do. I’ve been wanting to make funny short (video) clips that get people laughing. And they know that we’re connected still, despite this pandemic.


Guadalupe Ramos Amith, incumbent and small-business consultant

What is the No. 1 issue facing the city of Indio in 2021?

In 2021, the No. 1 issue facing our city is the decline in revenue due to the global pandemic, and the shutting down of several businesses that have contributed historically to our sales-tax revenue. We believe strongly that we will have to be a part of that recovery with the small businesses, to make sure that they are able to come back online. Not only so they can provide revenue to the city, but also the products and the services that our residents desire. I suspect that this is something that we will not be able to accomplish in the first year; I believe it’s going to take us a number of years to rebuild the business base that we’ve lost. But, working together with our chambers and our business community, I feel that we can accomplish this.

The city of Indio has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other city in the Coachella Valley. What can the city do better to reduce the infection rates among its residents?

We have a public-outreach campaign, both in English and Spanish, through social media and literature, that we distribute. The City Council recently allocated several thousands of dollars to provide PPE at no cost to our businesses so that they can encourage individuals coming into their establishment to practice safe COVID-19 protocols. Most importantly, I think it’s about getting the word out. Certainly, having a testing site in our city has been convenient for the residents, and we promote that, so individuals understand that they can be tested regularly if they need to be. And it really just comes down to communication and making sure that everyone understands the magnitude of the pandemic and what we need to do to overcome it.

During 2019, incidents of violent crime in Indio increased over 2018. What can the city do to decrease those numbers moving forward?

With the passage of Measure X (in 2016), we made a commitment to the community that we would enhance our public-safety resources, and we’ve been proactively recruiting and sending individuals to the police academy, so that we can hire them upon graduation. Those public-safety dollars that the taxpayers approved are being expended in that way. Also, through our community policing policy and the direction of police protocols, we’ve been able to separate the city into different zones. Now we have individual teams working with individual zones, because each zone has its own unique needs. These teams work together with nonprofits and county health officials, so it is a collaboration, of sorts. And I believe by continuing to enhance our public-safety human resources and infrastructure, we’ll be able to turn that around here rather quickly.

Back in June, when the Indio City Council passed a budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, some reserves were drawn upon to balance the budget. The new budget projects more than $135 million in revenues. Given the economic uncertainty, if those revenue numbers fall short, what cuts or new revenue opportunities would you propose that the city pursue?

We’re going to re-evaluate the budget here in October, because that estimation that we made at our mid-year budget passage was the best guesstimate we could do without having all of the data in from the previous two quarters. So we’ll have some more solid numbers here in October, and I suspect that (revenues) are going to be a little shorter than what we anticipated they would be. I do not expect to have any proposals move forward for additional taxes on the residents of Indio. I don’t believe that this is the right time (for that). Certainly, we can seek additional revenues, and I believe we’ll start seeing some of those (opportunities) come to fruition, as we have the new 40,000-square-foot supermarket coming online this month. We’ve seen two hotels come online in the last quarter, and those are at full capacity, so they’re going to start bringing in some transient occupancy tax. So, because we’ve made some smart decisions and smart moves prior to the pandemic, we’re going to start seeing a little bit of an increase in revenues from sources that we didn’t have previously. And we’re just now in the process of approving two new auto dealerships in the Auto Mall.

We have potential. It’s just a matter of finessing the budget balance with a little bit of the reserves so that we can get through this pandemic. We do have a freeze on any new hires at this point, until we can get a better handle on whether we’ll have any festival revenue in the coming year. But I don’t foresee any proposals on increased taxes. I think we’ll get by with our reserves and the increased revenues from the additional businesses that are coming in. 

What topic or issue impacting Indio should we have asked you about, and what are your thoughts on it?

At some point, I believe that the city of Indio needs to re-address the districting. I was not in support of separating the city into districts, and now we’re starting to see some of the defects of that. Community members feel that, because we are separated into districts, some council members don’t necessarily listen to, or are (not) concerned with, (the residents’) grievances. When it comes to project approvals, because it’s not an individual council member’s district, (the residents) don’t feel that they’re being heard. That’s kind of a sad situation when a community feels it is split up and no longer has the support of the full City Council to be heard and to make sure that the decisions being made are made in the best interests of the whole city. So, I really would like to address the re-districting. I know that we were in a position where we didn’t really have a choice because of the potential lawsuit if we didn’t go into districts. But I haven’t really seen any positives come out of being broken into districts. I feel that the community feels disconnected because of the districts. Eventually, we are going to have to sit back and evaluate (what) the districts have done for us over a 10-year period or such. Right now, It’s too soon.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I’ve become a lot more familiar with my home, which I’ve come to adore as my safe haven. I’ve become a lot more familiar with my pool. I think I spent more time in my pool this summer than I have in the five years that I’ve lived (at my current home). But the one biggest benefit has been that I’ve grown closer to my adult—I call them adults, because they’re 19 and 21—children, who still live with me, because they’re going to college. Before the pandemic, the hustle and bustle of them going to college and me working made it really hard for me to connect with them. But after that first month’s period of adjustment, they settled in and got into their routines. Now they come out and have lunch with me, and we have dinner together. So I’ve really enjoyed becoming re-acquainted with my home, and actually having the opportunity to get closer to my children.


Frank Ruiz, Audubon California director of the Salton Sea program

What is the No. 1 issue facing the city of Indio in 2021?

In 2021, we’ll still be dealing with COVID issues. In the wake of COVID-19, the economy, health and everything else (impacting) our communities will continue to be issues in 2021. I think that the economy of Indio will be stressed out in the wake of COVID-19. The concerts may not happen next year. So, I think it’s a reminder that we need to diversify the businesses that we attract to the community.

If there is a lesson we can learn from the last economic depression, it is that we need to be proactive and not reactive. So I hope that we do not have a budget shortfall. But, if that is the case, then I think we need to evaluate the status of our city budget. That will help us to provide current long-term budget projections. It is necessary to do this, because it will offer the City Council members critical information to assess the essential needs for services, staffing levels, business and residential needs. So, we need to make sure that we assess the whole situation in order for us to make sure that we plan well. And we shouldn’t be waiting until 202; we should actually be doing it right now. We should be proactive. In order to help the community and prevent the impacts that we experienced in the last recession, I think this assessment should prioritize and approve a city financial plan for the residents and the businesses, as much as assessing our financial future. This is based on the challenges of the federal, the state and the local levels. I think what happens at the federal and state levels will eventually end up affecting the local communities, so we need to pay attention to that. It isn’t going to be dialectic. I always say that we need to be looking at both sides, looking at both angles. The City Council needs to have input from the (Citizens’ Finance Advisory) Commission, and the businesses and residents in order to really assess the situation comprehensively.

The city of Indio has been hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than any other city in the Coachella Valley. What can the city do better to reduce the infection rates among its residents?

I think what’s occurring in Indio shouldn’t be isolated from (what’s happening) in the rest of the communities in the west end. There needs to be a collaborative effort, especially among the communities in the eastern Coachella Valley. I say this, because the east end communities tend to be more impacted at socioeconomic levels due to many other factors like health-care access, education and information. Sometimes multiple families occupy one house. So, I think we need to address (this issue) with the city of Indio and in conjunction with other local city governments.

First, I think that more information and education in our community is key. And making more information available in Spanish, and perhaps in other languages of ethnic groups that live within Indio, will improve the education, and that is a must. Second, I think we need to work in a very collaborative way with different clinics and hospitals to provide resources. There needs to be a close connection with the county Department of Health, so that the resources can be allocated to the eastern Coachella Valley and to make testing a lot easier, faster and more accessible to people. So, (by taking) those two actions, I think we can probably curb the number of infections that we are experiencing in the eastern valley. This isn’t only in Indio. According to the numbers from the Department of Public Health, the whole eastern Coachella Valley has been highly affected. But with these two approaches, I think we can improve on and curb the number of infections.

During 2019, incidents of violent crime in Indio increased over 2018. What can the city do to decrease those numbers moving forward?

I have been a member of the Indio Police Department (as chaplain), and I’ve been responding to a lot of the family crises over the last 10 years—so, I know the community rather well. One, we have the largest community, and numbers-wise, we probably are as big as Coachella, La Quinta and Indian Wells all together. So, (that) will increase the number of cases in the city. Nonetheless, I think we need to allocate resources better. Our community is growing rapidly, and it’s projected to be one of the communities with the highest growth in the coming years. So this is one of the reasons why I am a proponent of not defunding the police, which is very popular in certain circles, but rather of finding a new way to allocate resources.

One of the initiatives that I would love to continue with the police department is creating forums with different leaders. We had an initiative (coupling) the police department with faith-based communities. There were quarterly meetings, and they were addressing homelessness issues, active shooting cases and all the concerns that both national and local leaders have. Now, I would love to expand that initiative in order to allow the community members to have better participation, and to develop relationships between residents and first responders. Lastly, I think that when there is mutual cooperation between leaders, different nonprofit organizations and the police department, it allows the police department to do much better work. Now it’s not the police versus another group, but it’s all about the community of people who live here. So, if I get elected, that’s an initiative that I’d love to continue expanding.

Let me give you an example: Indio is one of the police departments that has a clinician on staff. So whenever there is a case (involving) mental health, rather than dealing with that in the old traditional ways, now there is a clinician, and there are four different officers who are trained in how to handle (such situations). I think programs like this will continue to help us prepare to respond better, to use less force and implement better ways to promote improved public safety in this community.

Back in June, when the Indio City Council passed a budget for the fiscal year 2020-2021, some reserves were drawn upon to balance the budget. The new budget projects more than $135 million in revenues. Given the economic uncertainty, if those revenue numbers fall short, what cuts or new revenue opportunities would you propose that the city pursue?

First we need to make an assessment of how bad the situation is. I am not a proponent of cutting services right away, if there are other ways to make (a balanced budget) happen. It is critical to make a really good assessment. We need to look at what the short- and long-term needs are. What are the capital improvement projects, the city services and the staffing levels? Maybe some people need to retire earlier rather than later. We need to look at the business and residential needs. Maybe we need to put a hold on some of the infrastructure developments until we are able to balance the books. So I feel that we do not need to react quickly, but rather do a thorough assessment of the situation. Maybe we need to cut services across the board, rather than cut programs that would definitely affect certain groups disproportionately. I would hate to see that happening, because we are a very diverse community, and I will fight to prevent any group (from being) disproportionately affected.

What topic or issue impacting Indio should we have asked you about, and what are your thoughts on it?

For me, one of the biggest concerns is public health. Indio is growing rapidly. But with that growth, there are going to be a lot challenges when it comes to the health of our local families. We are trying to accommodate a whole different generation that is coming behind us. And when I talk about health, I talk in a very comprehensive way, and in a very holistic manner. I talk about the physical, the emotional, spiritual and psychological aspects of good health. In Indio, we do not have good parks. I’m a longtime resident of this community, and it’s hard to say that. I have a family—my wife and two kids—and, if we want to go to the park, any park, we either go to La Quinta or to Coachella. Now, Indio is the second seat of the county (of Riverside), and we still don’t have quality parks for our rapidly growing families. So, part of my health initiative will be to make sure that we are part of a bigger (plan) to develop green and open areas so the families can spend time outdoors. Nationwide, we are having a huge health issue, and Indio is not the exception to the rule, and especially the Latino community, which tends to be more prone to health issues. I am a big environmentalist and a social activist, and I think we need to work with nonprofits, with churches and other groups that will allow us to develop programs and implement them in collaboration with the different segments of the community. If we don’t do this, then I think we are going to have a huge health crisis, sooner rather than later. The whole health question is a big umbrella for a lot of the initiatives and improvements we need to do in this community.

That brings us to the other problem of: How we accommodate the next generation that is coming behind us, which is (made up of) millennials and some of the younger Generation X-ers? We need to make sure that this community provides the appropriate atmosphere for these young families. Right now, it’s a very young community. I would love to see everything that we launch, whether businesses or infrastructure projects, be with the intentions of accommodating the young families. This will be my intention and something I will work hard on.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during the COVID-19 pandemic?

Honestly, it’s been really hard for me. I’m a big outdoor guy, and I love hiking. But, for me, being inside now has allowed me to catch up with so many of the books that I haven’t been able to read in the last three or four years. I’ve been forced to go back and return to my habit of reading. You know, it’s not my preferable (activity), although I love reading—just maybe not as extensively as I am right now. But, due to the current conditions, I’ll take this any given day.

Published in Politics

Toward the start of the stay-at-home order, I remember telling a friend (on a Zoom chat, of course) how much I looked forward to that wonderful day when the lockdown was over, and we could meet for happy-hour and hug again.

Ah, how naïve I was. If only it could be that simple.

We could meet for that happy hour again on Friday, as bars will be reopening that day. However, the scene would not be like it was in my mind’s eye. When I imagined that wonderful day, I didn’t imagine face masks and socially distanced tables—nor did I imagine the agonizing, scary dilemma going out to a bar would present.

And that hug? It’s definitely too soon for that.

Nothing seems simple in this pandemic-tinged, half-assed world in which we now live. On one hand, I keep seeing justifiably optimistic announcements on social media about gyms and cocktail lounges and movie theaters and even Disneyland reopening soon.

On the other … I keep looking at the local COVID-19 stats, and sighing at the across-the-board increases—which, predictably, people are freaking out about on social media. According to the state, our local hospitals have 85 coronavirus patients as of yesterday—the highest number I have seen a while.

But there’s a dilemma within this dilemma: The experts have said all along that when we reopened, cases would begin to rise. As Gov. Newsom said yesterday: “As we phase in, in a responsible way, a reopening of the economy, we’ve made it abundantly clear that we anticipate an increase in the total number of positive cases.

He’s right. They did say that. The goal is to make COVID-19 a manageable problem as life resumes. But it’s still a problem—a potentially deadly one—and nobody’s sure if we’ll be able to keep it “manageable” or not.

Today’s links:

• It’s official: Coachella and Stagecoach are cancelled for 2020. Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, officially pulled the plug this afternoon. “I am concerned as indications grow that COVID 19 could worsen in the fall,” said Kaiser in a news release. “In addition, events like Coachella and Stagecoach would fall under Governor Newsom’s Stage 4, which he has previously stated would require treatments or a vaccine to enter. Given the projected circumstances and potential, I would not be comfortable moving forward.”

• If you’re one of the people who is sniveling about masks, or denying that they work … it’s time for you to stop the sniveling and the denying.

Palm Springs City Councilmember Christy Holstege and the Palm Springs Police Officers’ Association are in the midst of a war of words. Here’s the brief, oversimplified version what happened: On Monday, Holstege wrote an open letter to the Riverside County Board of Supervisors in support of Supervisor V. Manuel Perez’s proposed resolutions to condemn the killing of George Floyd (which barely passed), and request the Sheriff’s Department to review its own policies (which failed when Perez couldn’t get a second). In it, Holstege wrote, among other things: “Like most communities throughout Riverside County, in Palm Springs and the Coachella Valley, we have a long history of racial segregation and exclusion, racial violence, racist city policies and policing, and injustice and disparities in our community that exist today.” This did not sit well with the officers’ union, which today accused Holstege of not bringing up any problems with the department until now, as well as “vilify(ing) our officers and department.” Holstege has since responded with claims that the union is mischaracterizing what she said. All three statements are recommended reading.

• Related-ish: San Francisco’s public-transportation agency recently announced it would no longer transport police officers to protests. The San Francisco Police Officers Association’s response? Hey Muni, lose our number.

• From ProPublica comes this piece: “The Police Have Been Spying on Black Reporters and Activists for Years. I Know Because I’m One of Them.” Wendi Thomas’ story is a must-read.

• The Black Lives Matters protests are resulting in a lot of long-overdue changes. One shockingly meaningful one was announced today: NASCAR will no longer allow confederate flags at its racetracks.

And Walmart has announced it will stop keeping its “multicultural hair care and beauty products” in locked cases.

And the Riverside County Sheriff announced today it would no longer use the use the carotid restraint technique.

• The government is understandably rushing the approvals processes to make potentially helpful COVID-10 treatments available. However, as The Conversation points out this is a potentially dangerous thing to do.

Also being rushed: A whole lot of state contracts for various things needed to battle the pandemic. Our partners at CalMatters break down how this created—and forgive the language, but this is the only word I can think of that sums things up properly—a complete and total clusterfuck.

• Provincetown, Mass., is normally a packed LGBT haven during the summer. However, this year, businesses there are just starting to reopen—and they’re trying to figure out the correct balance between income and safety.

Your blood type may help determine how you’ll fare if you get COVID-19. If you have Type 0, you may be less at risk—and if you have Type A, you may be more at risk.

Wired magazine talked to three vaccine researchers for a 15-minute YouTube video. Hear the voices and see the faces of the scientists behind the fight to end SARS-CoV-2.

A study of seamen on the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt—where there was a much-publicized COVID-19 outbreak—offers hope that people who recover from the disease may have immunity.

If it seems like groceries are more expensive, that’s because they are—about 8.2 percent more expensive.

What fascinating times these are. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Black Lives Matter. Please help the Independent continue what we’re doing, without paywalls, free to all, by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will likely be back tomorrow—Friday at the latest.

Published in Daily Digest

It was an insanely busy news day, so let’s get right to the links:

• First, a correction: In the emailed version of yesterday’s Daily Digest, I had the month portion of the date wrong for the city of Palm Springs’ “Restaurant, Retail, Hair Salon & Barbershop Re-Opening Guidance for Business Owners” webinar. As a few eagle-eyed readers pointed out: The webinar is taking place at 9 a.m., May 28—in other words, tomorrow. Get info here, and please accept my apologies for the mistake.

• Other Palm Springs news: The City Council voted yesterday to extend the eviction moratorium through June 30.

• While this news is certainly not surprising, it’s an economic bummer for sure: Goldenvoice is reaching out to artists slated to perform at the already-delayed Coachella festival, and trying to book them for 2021 instead. Translation: A Coachella cancellation announcement may be coming soon.

If you’re going to read only one piece from today’s Daily Digest, please make sure it’s this one. Yesterday, we talked about the appalling lack of journalistic integrity NBC Palm Springs showed by airing an unvetted fluff piece—multiple times—provided by Amazon talking about all the great things the company is doing to keep its workers safe. In reality … at least eight workers have died. Today, the Los Angeles Times brings us the story of one of those eight fallen workers. Grab a tissue before you get to know the story of Harry Sentoso.

• Gov. Newsom announced today that more information regarding gym/fitness center-reopening guidelines would be released next week, as the state moves further into Stage 3.

• The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership just released a new survey of local businesses regarding the impact of the pandemic … and the only word that comes to mind is “yikes.” One takeaway: 99 percent of businesses have experienced a reduction in revenue—and 56 percent of those declines were between 91 and 100 percent

• It’s well-known that a number of COVID-19 antibody tests are flawed, but now there are concerns about the accuracy of the diagnostic tests. NBC News looks into the matter.

• Well, this could be interesting: President Trump, angry that Twitter placed a fact-check notice on an obviously untrue statement of his, apparently plans on taking some sort of action against social media companies via executive order. Will tomorrow be the day our democratic republic comes to an end? Tune in tomorrow! 

• In Pennsylvania, Democratic lawmakers are accusing GOP lawmakers of covering up the fact that a lawmaker had tested positive for COVID-19—possibly exposing them in the process. Republicans say they followed all the proper protocols … but didn’t feel the need to tell Democrats about the positive test, because of privacy. Jeez. The barn-burning video of Rep. Brian Sims expressing his extreme displeasure is horrifying.

• From the Independent: While tattoo shops remain closed (at least legally) across the state, they may be allowed to reopen soon, as we move further into Stage 3. The Independent’s Kevin Allman spoke to Jay’e Jones, of Yucca Valley’s renowned Strata Tattoo Lab, about the steps she’s taking to get ready.

• An update on what’s happening in Imperial County, our neighbors to the southeast: A coronavirus outbreak in northern Mexico is causing American citizens who live there to cross the border for treatment—and overwhelming the small hospitals in the county. The Washington Post explains how this is happening, while KESQ reports that packed Imperial County hospitals are sending patients to Riverside County hospitals for care.

• Don’t let the headline freak you out, please, because it’s not as horrifying as it sounds, although it remains important and interesting: The “coronavirus may never go away, even with a vaccine,” explains The Washington Post.

Nevada casinos will begin coming back to life on June 4. The Los Angeles Times explains how Las Vegas is preparing for a tentative revival.

• Another business segment is also making plans to reopen in Nevada: brothels. The Reno Gazette-Journal explains how brothel owners are making their case to the state.

• Given that Santa Clara County health officer Dr. Sara Cody issued the nation’s first stay-at-home order, it’s 1) interesting and 2) not entirely surprising that she thinks California’s reopening process is moving too quickly.

• Some of us are naturally inclined to follow rules; some of us bristle at them. University of Maryland Professor Michele Gelfand, writing for The Conversation, explains how these primal mindsets are coming into play regarding masks and other pandemic matters.

The Trump administration is still separating migrant families—and often using the pandemic as an excuse to do so, explains the Los Angeles Times.

• The New York Times reports on the inevitable upcoming eviction crisis. Eff you, 2020.

Some Good News, John Krasinski’s feel-good YouTube series, has been sold to ViacomCBS. Here’s how and why that came about.

• Finally, here’s an update on increasing evidence that sewage testing may help governments stop new coronavirus outbreaks before they blow up.

That’s all today. I am going to now go raise a toast to the life of Harry Sentoso and the other 100,000-plus Americans this virus has claimed so far. Please join me if you can. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

“You guys must be so busy during Coachella!”

That drove me crazy my first couple of years here in the desert—almost as crazy as when people ask for “something with vodka, but not too sweet.” Bacchus, save the doe-eyed innocents who say things like that in my presence.

I am not trying to be a jerk. I swear. I just need to smack that little floater of small talk into the ground like I’m Dikembe Mutombo. And instead of just taking my answer—“No, business is actually slow; it’s pretty far from here and fills all the local hotels so nobody can just visit Palm Springs”—as a good explanation, they make me draw a little map of the Coachella Valley, point out our hours of operation, explain the basic rules of supply and demand, and so on.

The end result: For most valley bars and restaurants open in the evening, Coachella sucks.

I realize I am writing this with a particular experience—that of a bartender in Palm Springs. I understand that a pool server at a hotel or at a breakfast spot, or a bartender closer to the event grounds, may have a very different experience. Nevertheless, I believe that the move of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival to October should be a permanent thing. It would be better for the whole Coachella Valley—and festival-goers, too.

Related question: What, exactly, is “season” here in the desert? People ask me that all the time, and the quick answer for me is February to April. We also have busy spurts at Christmas, New Year’s Eve and Thanksgiving, plus the pool parties in the summer if you work at certain hotels, and Palm Springs Pride if you work in downtown Palm Springs.

That’s about it. Otherwise, it’s very sleepy most days.

April, regardless of Coachella, would be high season (at least in years when we’re not dealing with pandemics). It’s the time of year when the weather is still pretty darn nice here, except for the wind. The hotels and vacation rentals would be full regardless of the festival, as April is a pretty blah and rainy month for most of the U.S. and Canada—and without the festival, those visitors wouldn’t be here for a cloistered event and would actually be out supporting local businesses. Much of the town at night wouldn’t be empty for two prime weekends a season. Think about that: The bars and restaurants, at least in Palm Springs, are slow for half the weekends during one of the potentially busiest months of the year due to Coachella. We lose most of a third weekend if you count Stagecoach, although the effects aren’t as dramatic.

About that wind … it can get pretty severe in April. I have a mental .gif from a few years ago when I watched two acquaintances of mine, in their cherry British convertible, get smacked in the face with an errant palm frond while driving down Arenas Road. It gets so bad that even Palm Springs VillageFest closes some weeks, and the smell from the Salton Sea can be intense. In other words … this is a great time to be at a hotel, with breeze blocks and such, but not such a great time to be standing in an open and unprotected polo field. Just look at last year, when festival-goers were dehydrated in the heat and covered in dust from head to toe. Remember, that dust is full of salt and agricultural runoff—the same terrible air quality that has been covered in this very paper for its deleterious effects on the human body. I am not so jaded against festival-goers that I want them subjected to that.

Now … let’s think of October. This is the underused start of shoulder season, and while I enjoy the generally perfect weather and quiet streets, there is a lot of room for economic growth. Guests often comment on the fact we have Greater Palm Springs Pride here in the fall—at the start of November—rather than during the summer months, when it’s scorching. Attendees love having a reason to come here and get another round of parties, parades and good vibes. Halloween here—while not as wild as the celebrations I attended during my youthful days in the witch capital of Salem, Mass.—is also a real spectacle. The costumes are top-notch, and the bars are busy downtown, but not intimidatingly so. October and early November are a second potential busy season left on the vine, in my opinion.

I did some informal polling in the time between the Coachella-postponement announcement and the stay-at-home order. While most service-industry people didn’t want to go on the record—or I didn’t feel right asking for an official quote as things got more dire—the consensus, at least in Palm Springs, is that October should be the permanent home of Coachella.

An owner of a large rental company sparked this take when he told me he wished the festival would stay in October. I figured people renting out properties were just raking it in during the two weeks in April and wouldn’t want to rock the boat—but I was wrong. He, like me, sees a wasted opportunity in October. He hates that his company has to waste two or three weeks that they could easily rent for good prices worrying about festival-goers. In non-Coachella Octobers, properties are more or less rented for off-season prices. A switch would be a win-win for them.

I am sure most readers of this paper don’t care too much for the profits of landlords—but I do find it telling that the wealthy rental owners and restaurant moguls are on the same page as the local cocktail bartenders, restaurant managers and servers.

It’s becoming a poorly kept secret that you can walk into any of our best restaurants during festival weekends and get a table any time you want. You can have a normally full popular bar mostly to yourself on a Saturday in April. This is a lot of wasted opportunity. We shouldn’t be making less on a weekend in April than we make on a weekend in September.

I have been trying to find a good reason that Coachella shouldn’t permanently be in October, and the only one I can think of is marketing: Coachella in April makes it the Iowa caucus or New Hampshire primary of music festivals. By being the first of the major music festivals during the calendar year in the Northern Hemisphere, it gets to be the flagship, the trend-setter, the taste-maker. When you are in the industry of cool, it’s important to be first. But still … hopefully this rescheduling will show Goldenvoice that Coachella can still be the top music festival without it being early in the calendar year. After all, if you are the 600-pound gorilla, you can sit wherever you want. On behalf of most industry folks in my part of the desert: Coachella, please go sit in October for good.

Kevin Carlow can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Cocktails

If I was in charge of HGTV, I would use PUP’s music as the soundtrack for the home-demolition processes in each show: Songs like “DVP,” “Reservoir” and “Back Against the Wall” make you just wanna go destroy things. Heck, the video for “Mabu” even features the guys destroying their car, in true punk-rock fashion.

However, a handful of tracks are more somber, and may even bring a tear to your eye. “If This Tour Doesn’t Kill You, I Will,” “Sleep in the Heat” and “Dark Days” still bring that heavy sound, along with a little bit of sentimentality. It’s OK—it’s totally punk rock to cry.

PUP has a story unlike any other, and I was excited to get the chance for an interview. The Toronto-based band’s decade of screams and headbanging could have been cut short a few times, yet here they are, about to play one of the biggest stages in the world, barring any pandemic postponements: You can catch them at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, aka Coachella, on Friday, April 10 and 17.

“It’s crazy,” said guitarist Steve Sladkowski during a recent phone interview about the Coachella booking. “I still remember when I got the email. I was walking home, and it was freezing cold outside. I was alone and walking to my apartment, and when I saw it, I just blurted out, ‘Woah!’

“It’s still a very surreal feeling. The guys were in shock. We thought it was fake. It’s gonna be a great time, and we’re all looking forward to it. Just being able to see Rage Against the Machine, I’d do it just for that.”

PUP includes Sladkowski, drummer Zack Mykula, bassist Nestor Chumak and frontman Stefan Babcock. The quartet has been crafting its unique punk sound and going batshit insane at live shows for a decade now. I saw them in San Diego last year, and the entire crowd was a mosh pit. Take my word for it, or check out “PUP Live in the K! Pit (Tiny Dive Bar Show)” in the media section below.

“Our first record came out in 2013, but we played under a different name before that,” said Sladkowski. “We’ve been writing songs, hanging out, drinking beer and piling into a van for a hell of a long time. We’ve been able to see so much more of the world that I’d ever thought I’d see: Europe, Australia, weird Spanish islands off the coast of Africa, every province in Canada and Late Night With Seth Meyers. It’s been a whirlwind, and it’s so crazy to me that this is our job and that we can make a living while still being a close, tight-knit family.”

There have been no lineup changes since the inception of the group, which is uncommon these days. I mentioned this to Sladkowski, and he explained the amazing relationship he and his bandmates have.

“We spend New Year’s together every year, so it’s not like the four of us are just in this because we’re having success; we’re truly friends,” he said. “The band is so dependent on the four of us, both socially and musically. Each of us brings something to the table when we are working together to write songs. It wouldn’t be the same without any one member.”

I was curious if this concept of working together translates to how the group crafts their songs.

“It’s totally a group effort,” Sladkowski said. “Some days, someone will come in with a song that’s as close to fully formed as you’d hear on a record, and other days, someone will come in with a shell of an idea, and the four of us will work together to build on it. We’re willing to do whatever works, and are willing to try to serve the song, and not repeat ourselves creatively, which can be a challenge, and very-time consuming. But at the end of the day, putting in that time and effort to find new ideas and creative directions is totally worthwhile.”

PUP’s success is due in large part to the band members’ tremendous work ethic. They’ve released three albums, two EPs and 15 music videos, all while touring relentlessly.

“When we’re at home, we always try to work on stuff,” Sladkowski said. “We’ll send around demos to each other, or try to relearn some of the songs that didn’t end up on Morbid Stuff (the band’s most-recent LP) just as a creative exercise. We’re always working, tinkering and writing. We’ve never been the type to stick to one process at a time—writing, recording, touring. It’s kind of a mish-mash of whatever is happening at the time, but we’re always very intent on working. We’ve gotten to a level of success that no one could ever have dreamed of, and it doesn’t feel like the time to coast on that. It feels like the time to continue working, and trying to make interesting things.”

While this does sound rigorous, Sladkowski assured me that it never feels like a hindrance.

“This is what I’ve always wanted to do, so even on days when it’s tough, it’s a lot easier to make sacrifices for it,” he said. “At the end of the day, this is my job, and it’s the best job ever. You never know when something like this is gonna end, so you have to make the most of it.”

Part of the reason for the band’s opportunity-seizing ethos has to do with a moment that every musician fears: Babcock at one point was diagnosed with a cyst on his vocal cords. His doctor told him “the dream was over.”

“That’s the kind of thing that makes you realize how lucky you are to be in that position, but how fragile that position can be,” said Sladkowski. “It’s something as random as a cyst on a vocal cord that shows you how quickly everything you have can unravel, but I think that made us really strong as a band, as friends, as family. I remember Stefan coming to us and him fearing he wouldn't be able to sing again, and him blaming himself for it.

“We got through it, and came out stronger as a unit. We learned there were some things we had to do, long-term-oriented, in terms of health and wellness, and learned how to take care of ourselves. Not only was it a wake-up call, but it was an opportunity to really figure out how to do this in a more physically sustainable way. It’s something you could have never predicted. We had shows to play, and then we had to finish and tour the record. All of a sudden, Stefan couldn’t talk for a month, and he had to relearn how to speak and sing. We’ve been through so much together that it would be crazy to do anything other than have unwavering support for one another.”

In true punk-rock fashion, the group named that album The Dream Is Over. Since then, the group has been on a roll, releasing Morbid Stuff last year and landing a spot at Coachella.

“I think a lot of bands lack great support in their relationships, as (do) a lot of people,” Sladkowski said. “It’s causing people a lot of pain and fear that they can’t come forward and talk about things. No one should ever feel that way, so if there’s anything to be taken from what we went through, it should be that it’s OK to lean on your friends, and it’s OK to ask for help.”

Published in Previews

Bruce Fessier has seen the Coachella Valley’s arts and entertainment culture completely change—repeatedly—during the 40 years he’s worked as the entertainment writer at The Desert Sun.

On June 3, Fessier’s column will be appearing for the last time before he heads into retirement.

“The industry has changed quite a bit, and it’s not as satisfying as it used to be,” Fessier said during a recent interview at The Desert Sun’s offices. “I still have some brain cells, so I would still like to do some other things before I no longer have those brain cells. I never wanted to spend my entire life as a journalist. It just kind of worked out that way. Having the opportunity to take an early-retirement benefit gives me enough of a cushion that I can try some other things.”

When Fessier arrived at The Desert Sun in 1979, there wasn’t much to cover.

“I often say that the difference between now and then is that when I first started, there wasn’t enough entertainment to have a calendar,” Fessier said. “Now there is so much entertainment that they don’t want me spending my time assembling a calendar. So I don’t do a calendar anymore, and I’m back to where I started. I covered the nightclubs, and I covered the lounge scene. They had concerts at Palm Springs High School, and most were either big band or classical.”

Fessier said skater culture was helping launch a local music scene when he started at The Desert Sun.

“There was a guy named Myke Bates who started a company called Bates Skates. That became the centerpiece for this skating culture,” Fessier said. “There was a rebellion that was happening right after I got here. A lot of the people were skateboarding and roller-skating on sidewalks in Palm Springs. The city of Palm Springs created ordinances to prohibit them from skating. This guy Bates was the head of the skating culture and was a punk-rocker. He was in the band Target 13. That generated this punk-rock culture, and I started covering a lot of that. Most of that was in Desert Hot Springs and not in Palm Springs itself, but there was a real scene that was developing. I covered that in the early days, and it was always the alternative to the classical stuff you’d see at Palm Springs High School and the lounge scene.”

Fessier was around when the desert generator scene developed. Bands such as Kyuss and Fatso Jetson played shows in the middle of the desert as they cut their teeth—and Fessier doesn’t agree with the modern romanticization of those desert parties.

“I went out to one generator party, and it was just terrible conditions,” he said. “Never mind how dangerous it was; it was the type of thing where there was so much sand blowing. It would get in your face and all the instruments, and it was just not enjoyable. … I would see some of those guys at Adrian’s Dance Club or something like that, but I can’t say I was a participant in the generator scene.

“Back in 1989, you could hear this music coming out from the middle of nowhere, and you didn’t know where it was coming from, because they never told anybody. Jesse Hughes (of Eagles of Death Metal) recently posted on Facebook about how I covered him in the early days. I saw him and one of his bands at this drive-through Italian restaurant in Cathedral City where you could get spaghetti for $2, and he was playing there. That’s the thing: You’d see these people playing in little nooks and crannies. Even though I didn’t go out and hang out in the hills, I was still aware of what was going on.”

There was one name in town that you couldn’t avoid back then.

“Everybody idolized Sinatra in those days,” Fessier said. “I wrote a column one time back then about how you could go to every bar in town and hear ‘New York, New York.’ I got so sick of that song. That came out in 1979, and everybody was singing it. That’s what it was like in 1979 in Palm Springs. They were all close personal friends of Frank and all had stories about him, and I’d run into him at all these different places. That was kind of fun, actually.

“I wasn’t really a big Frank Sinatra fan at the time, but just seeing the impact he had on all the people and discovering his generosity in person—it made me a big fan of his. Once I stopped getting over the generational thing that I had and started appreciating his music, I became a big Frank Sinatra fan.”

Fessier remembered seeing both the good side and the bad side of the Chairman of the Board.

“He was mercurial. If you caught him on a good day, you were intoxicated by him. If you caught him on a bad day, you were scared to death of him. I saw him on both sides,” Fessier said. “The first time I was in a room with him was the first week I was entertainment editor. This PR guy decided he was going to take me around town and show me all the lounges and restaurants. He told me he was going to take me to Don the Beachcomber, because that was where Sinatra hung out. I had a friend with me at the time who was a real drunken kind of friend. I wasn’t expecting this to be any big deal, and the last thing I expected was to see Sinatra at this place.

“We get there, and there was Sinatra. Don the Beachcomber was a tiny place. He was at the bar with about 20 friends, and he’s entertaining them all. This red light came on, and he said, ‘When that red light comes on, I sing.’ This PR guy said, ‘You do not talk to Frank Sinatra.’ My friend was drunk and said, ‘I don’t care what you say; I know people who are big shots, and I’m going to go up to him and say hello.’ (My friend) brushed us aside and said, ‘Hey Frank,’ and Frank said, ‘Hey pal, how you doing?’ and shook his hand.

“Frank had this charisma, and it would hypnotize you a bit.”

Fessier also covered the local theater scene extensively.

“I saw the big change coming, and that was the McCallum Theatre (which opened in 1988),” he said. “When I got here, there was an organization called the Valley Players Guild, and they were always looking for their own home. Then there (was) the Palm Desert Community Theatre, and that was pretty much it. College of the Desert did their own shows. Then the McCallum (began) doing fundraising and the performing-arts series that they did at Palm Springs High School and the Annenberg Theater at the Palm Springs Art Museum. It became apparent that would not only dwarf community theater, but take up all of The Desert Sun’s resources: I was going to be covering what was going on at the McCallum instead of community theater.

“That’s the reason I co-founded the Desert Theatre League in 1987, because there were more groups that were starting, and there were other splinter groups. I thought they needed some sort of a promotion that I wasn’t going to be able to provide, and an award show would be that kind of promotion. I wanted it to also be a networking opportunity for people to share their resources. My co-founder was an actor in town who also worked in the advertising department for The Desert Sun, so some of these splinter groups that didn’t have nonprofit status could get the lower nonprofit advertising rate by being a member.”

Fessier and I were two of the five journalists invited to cover Paul McCartney’s 2016 show at Pappy and Harriet’s. I remember seeing him disappear and reappear many times throughout the show.

“I had an early deadline,” Fessier explained. “We are always trying to be first, and so Robyn (Celia, the venue’s co-owner) let me use their office. Their office got so crazy with people coming in to where I went to the back of the office in this closet where I had my laptop, and I’d be writing and walking out to see what the commotion was. We didn’t get a photo pass, either, and I was trying to take pictures. That was crazy! … It was certainly historic, and I didn’t really appreciate it as much as I should have at the time.”

Fessier said covering the valley’s big festivals, Coachella especially, can be tiring and strenuous—but wind up being worth the trouble.

“Even today, the press accommodations are bad,” Fessier said. “I did an interview with (Coachella founder) Paul Tollett a week ago, and I was telling him how the press accommodations always suck. I told him, ‘You know what the sports guys get?’ The second year we were there, a colleague said that the press tent was four sticks and a canvas. The first year, they didn’t even have electricity in there. But at the time, it was so magical, because you could just walk up to people. I walked right up to Moby and did an interview. There was nobody setting up any press interviews. It was magical from the very beginning.”

Fessier made a prediction about Coachella’s future.

“It’s going to be international,” he said. “I wouldn’t be surprised if J Balvin is the first international headliner not to use English as his primary language. That’s the direction it’s going in. It had more international stars this year than there were acts from the United States. Paul Tollett likes to nurture those guys and bring them up.”

Considering all the changes taking place in the media world, I had to ask: Do you feel that what we do will still matter in the future?

“I just did a talk to a class of broadcasters at College of the Desert, and I told them, ‘You’re living in an exciting time when you won’t need radio stations, and you won’t need newspapers, (but) you will need entrepreneurial skills to monetize your work. You have an opportunity to find out what you want to do and make a living at it without corporate ties,’” he said. “Working for a corporation is very frustrating. I’m happy to not have to be worried about rewriting some story from TMZ about herpes breaking out at Coachella.”

Fessier explained why he stayed at The Desert Sun for four decades.

“I got an offer at the San Francisco Chronicle, and I’m from San Francisco. I went to college there, and I always dreamed of going back to the Bay Area. But the salary they were offering me was not significantly more than what I was getting here,” he said. “I’ve always had other income opportunities and have never had to rely just on The Desert Sun. It’s between not being offered enough money and my wife saying, ‘I’m not going to live in Cincinnati!’

“This is a nice place to not only live but raise kids. I’m very proud that both of my kids are doing very well now. One is an animator for Bob’s Burgers, and the other one is managing a cannabis dispensary.”

Published in Features

The final day of Coachella 2019 started off with a slower pace—no surprise, considering Saturday is the longest day of the festival, and Kanye West performed his Easter “church” service at 9 a.m.

Though I didn’t attend Kanye’s Easter service, I nonetheless trickled in late myself. Some people were sporting the now-infamous $70 T-shirts and $165 sweatshirts that Kanye sold at the service—and it made me sigh and shake my head. I didn’t think I’d ever see anything like this happening at Coachella … and I don’t mean that in a good way.

Now, for the good news: Sunday had some fantastic musical offerings, including some great acts coming out of the R&B genre. Speaking of that …

• R&B/soul singer Blood Orange (right) took the Outdoor Stage around 6 p.m., decked out in a Smashing Pumpkins T-shirt that said “ZERO” across it—just like Billy Corgan used to wear in the late 1990s. Blood Orange offered enjoyable and smooth music to chill out to as the sun began to go down—but I was a bit confused by the visuals. One appeared to be a continuous loop of an illegal street-car-racing video; another featured Puff Daddy; and yet another appeared to be an interview of some sort.

• Local cumbia band Ocho Ojos (below) performed a headlining set in the Sonora Tent again for Weekend 2. Ocho Ojos was written up in Rolling Stone regarding last week’s performance, and it was WILD in there again on Sunday. The large crowd loved the group—giving local fans something to be proud of.

• Vanessa Franko of The Press Enterprise told me on Saturday that I must go see French DJ/producer Gesaffelstein’s Sunday set on the Outdoor Stage. She told me I’d love it, adding: “It’s the music you’d hear coming from a serial killer’s basement.” Well, after leaving the Sonora Tent following the first half of the Ocho Ojos set, I had to stop and do a double-take after seeing Outdoor Stage screen—a male figure was dressed in some sort of suit straight out of a science-fiction film, wearing a mask that covered his entire face and head. The loops that were coming from the stage were industrial—and quite catchy.

• The Khalid set on the Coachella Stage was another attention-getting R&B/soul set. The stage’s décor was quite interesting, including a ’70s-style van parked right in the middle of it. Guitarist John Mayer made a guest appearance during the set, adding some very strange sounds to the song Khalid was performing.

• Ariana Grande’s Easter Sunday performance started out with an impersonation of the Last Supper—complete with a dinner table, including Ariana in the middle singing “God is a Woman.” I’ll give Ariana Grande one thing: At least she didn’t use a hillside stage in the middle of the campgrounds to sell $70 T-shirts.

Published in Reviews

Day 2 of Coachella’s second weekend started off on the breezy side—but it still felt fairly comfortable. As the day went on, however, the wind picked up, and the nighttime actually felt … chilly.

The weather aside, Saturday offered a fantastic variety of music. Here are some highlights:

• Christine and the Queens cancelled the group’s Outdoor Stage appearance due to a death in the family, moving all the acts up an hour. When Ty Segall and White Fence (right) took the stage on Saturday afternoon, two factors worked against them: the wind and a lack of acoustics. The wind indeed blew away some of their thunder, but the group still managed to put on a great early-afternoon set that drew interest as attendees arrived at the site.

• The Interrupters, the go-to ska-punk band at any Southern California music festival (first below), took the Outdoor Stage later in the afternoon. Guitarist Kevin Bivona informed the crowd that the band didn’t tolerate sexism, racism, homophobia or any kind of discrimination, as the Interrupters played the group’s politically themed anthems. It’s no mystery why the Interrupters are becoming ever-more popular: The band has something interesting to say in each of its songs—and is fun as hell to watch.

• The Coachella Stage was the place to be early in the evening when Colombian reggaeton performer J Balvin (second below) performed an energetic and fun set, complete with a huge inflatable … something. Whatever it was, it looked like it was from a video game that sat on the stage; meanwhile, a bunch of trippy pop-culture-related images flashed on the video screens.

• I was surprised by how good Weezer’s Saturday-evening set was—and by how many people showed up for it. Weezer started off the show by appearing in barbershop-quartet outfits, singing breakout 1994 hit “Buddy Holly” in barbershop-quartet fashion. It was quite a sight. This was the theme for the entire set: Play the old hits everyone knows. Most of the songs came from the Blue album, Pinkerton, the Green album, and the Red album. Oh, and they did play that cover of Toto’s “Africa” about halfway into the set … and about 20 percent of the crowd disappeared right after. It was a highly enjoyable and energetic set that truly kicked ass—proving Weezer is still one hell of a live act.

• Headliner Tame Impala, the Australian psychedelic-rock project led by Kevin Parker, took the Coachella Stage shortly after 10:30 p.m. to colder-than-usual temperatures and a lot of wind. Nonetheless, the band attempted to use smoke machines to keep the same trippy visual effects—which were quite intense at times. During the extended opening song, “Let It Happen,” the band blew out confetti, which was carried away by the wind and pelted everyone in the face. From what I heard about the poor turnout last weekend, Tame Impala’s audience may have been larger this weekend. I personally love Tame Impala and think it’s a fantastic live band—but it’s too early for Tame Impala to be a headliner, especially since the group had little new material to offer, and has no announced release date for a new album.

Published in Reviews

I’ll admit it: I was skeptical as I walked into the Empire Polo Club for the start of Coachella Weekend 2—but a relaxed vibe and above-expectations performances led to a wonderful Friday of music.

Here are some of the things I took in:

• Just after 3 p.m., I found myself at the Coachella Stage watching Los Tucanes de Tijuana for the second time this week. The Coachella performance was much different than the one at Chella—and the Coachella crowd couldn’t seem to get enough. The band played 1994 hit “La Chona” early in the set and also at the end. “La Chona” has become a verb, of sorts, as people like to post online videos dancing to the song, and the Coachella crowd was happy to do so as well.

• Late in the afternoon, I was blown away by Calypso Rose’s set in the Gobi Tent (right). The 78-year-old calypsonian from Trinidad—she announced she’ll be 79 in two weeks—is now the oldest performer to grace the stages at Coachella. Despite falling down last week, she stood right back up as if nothing happened. She can no longer do the crazy calypso dances, but she teased the crowd a few times by pulling up her ankle length dress to her knees and moving a bit. She’s adorable … and she’s fierce. In fact, after her second song, she declared herself the “Queen of Coachella.” She also told the men in the audience to never raise a hand toward a woman, because they spent nine months in a woman’s womb, and they wouldn’t want anyone to hit their daughters—and she spoke from a place of authority, as she’s battled sexism in the calypso scene from men who were intimidated by her or felt inferior to her. It’s a wonder why more people weren’t at her set—because she is a true living legend.

• Anderson .Paak (first below) started off his early-evening set on the Coachella Stage with a blasting performance of “Heart Don’t Stand a Chance” from his 2016 album, Malibu—and then was seen performing behind the drums. When I saw him perform at Coachella in 2016, I figured he was only going to become a bigger name—and he’s now a main-stage talent. He joked with the audience that the first-week jitters were gone, so he could relax—and that he was happy to see a turnout bigger than last weekend’s crowd. There were times in the set that felt like a Stevie Wonder set in the 1970s, and there were times that felt like a high-energy rap concert.

• U.S. Girls’ Meghan Remy is a bit eccentric, and the group’s headlining performance in the indoor Sonora Tent was a bit strange (second below). Performing right after punk/hardcore band The Frights was probably not easy for a psychedelic pop band—and the crowd was pretty dismal, to say the least, despite all the positive press the group has garnered over the last year. After about the third song, there was a minute of very awkward silence as Remy stared into the audience and calmly asked: “Are you out there?” The end of the performance was also strange, when she and two other band members got down on the floor of the stage, performed some strange movements, and literally crawled away to conclude the performance … something the audience wouldn’t have known if one of the band members hadn’t walked by and threw some guitar picks to the crowd while waving goodbye.

• As I waited for Lady Gaga’s headlining performance two years ago, DJ Snake’s wild DJ set—complete with a crazy light show accompanying it—offered great entertainment. On Friday, DJ Snake returned to the same stage, with almost the same scenario—playing right before the headliner. This time around, I decided to actually watch rather than just listen, and it was … let’s call it over the top. It was an absolute banger of a set that could probably be heard all the way in Palm Desert. DJ Snake went hard, and—other than an earsplitting number using high-pitched bird sounds—it was flawless.

• Childish Gambino’s intro was the same as it was last week: He started off on a platform about 25 feet off the ground that slowly lowered him down. His eyes were wide, as if he were ready for war, as he walked through the gospel choir accompanying him. After the first song, he took it down a notch, giving the audience two rules: Get down to the performance as much as possible; and put down the fucking phones and live in the moment. He saved his best and newer material for the end, after delighting the crowd with some of his lighter-hearted material.

Published in Reviews

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