Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Kevin Fitzgerald

The original Palm Springs Animal Shelter was built in 1961—and it was, according to the nonprofit organization’s website, “woefully inadequate in meeting the needs of the current animal population of Palm Springs.”

But that would eventually change. As the website says: “In 2009, the city of Palm Springs allocated $5 million in a capital improvement bond, and the process of designing a shelter that would stand as a model for Southern California began.” In November 2012, the Friends of the Palm Springs Animal Shelter assumed operations of it from the city.

Eight years later, the readers of the Independent have again selected the Palm Springs Animal Shelter as the Best Local Activist/Advocacy Group/Charity, and the shelter’s major fundraising event—the Faux Fur Ball—as the Best Annual Charity Event.

“You know, I think one of the reasons that people might have voted for us this year is because of how we’ve been able to operate during this incredibly challenging time,” said Tamara Hedges, president of the PSAS board of directors. “It’s a credit to our executive director, Gabrielle Amster, her team and our volunteers that we’ve been able to continue to serve our community, and that we’ve been able to continue to do adoptions in a safe, controlled manner. We’ve even been able to do our vaccine clinics, which are important, because they provide a low-cost option to make sure that folks can get the care they need (for their pets) during this time. So although it’s not been business as usual—far from it—we’ve still been able to be here for the pets and people in our community.”

In 2019, the shelter’s team accepted 687 pets that were surrendered voluntarily by their owners; 1,553 stray animals; and 178 pets that were returned by adopters. Through the end of October 2020, the shelter has taken in 537 pets surrendered by owners; 1,130 strays; and 168 adopter returns. While the pet in-take numbers are pretty much on a par with last year’s totals, Amster said pet adoptions have been on the rise so far this year.

“It’s like a 12 to 20 increase,” Amster said. “It’s about 20 percent for dog adoptions and 12 percent for cats.”

A few months ago, television outlets were reporting that some pet-adoption facilities had literally run out of animals suitable for adoption.

“We never ran out,” Amster said. “But we definitely worked to keep up with the demand. There have been times in the past where the demand was not enough for our (adoptable pet) population, but that did not happen during the pandemic. We definitely have had a lot of demand.”

Hedges said it’s good that the demand for adoptable pets is high.

“It’s been steady, and we’ve been able to do a lot of really positive match-making, and I think that has been so great for people who are looking for companionship during this time,” Hedges said, adding with a laugh: “I know my pets are saving me. Even though I live with my husband, he’s on my last nerve at this point, but the animals are always smiling.”

Joking aside, Hedges and Amster said they’re aware that the pandemic and the economic downturn have taken a physical and mental toll on both pets and their owners.

“We have to be really aware of the struggles that many in our community are experiencing because of COVID,” Hedges said, “whether it’s financial, or a short-term illness. Gabrielle and the team have really worked hard in the pet-retention arena. I think it’s an important part of our story that we are continuing to provide people with resources. Sometimes it’s as basic as providing them with pet food. Or, it could be advice we provide about care that’s needed by their pet. Or, it could involve behavioral issues.”

Added Amster: “Some of what we’re dealing with is the result of troubles that the humans have leading their lives, and that trickles down to the pet. People have been displaced, or they’ve lost their job and don’t have the resources they need to provide care for their pets. That’s the sort of situation that we’re really trying to support. We don’t want to separate people from their pets, and we don’t want people to bring us their pets—that they love and want to have by their side—simply because they can’t afford to care for them. We want to make sure that people have access to low-cost vaccines, and spay-and-neuter services, and pet food. We want them to have access to behavioral help in case they’ve had to move to a smaller house, or move in with family members—their animal may need training help so that they can stay together in the new environment. Those are the sorts of things that we’re really focusing on.”

The shelter runs a pet food bank of its own, and partners with several local human-food providers (including the Mizell Senior Center Meals on Wheels program, the Desert AIDS Project and AAP-Food Samaritans) for distribution.

“On our website, we actually have an application for those who need pet-food help,” Amster said. “You don’t have to qualify for the program, but you do have to fill out the application, and then we reach out to each individual pet owner to provide them with the food their pet needs.”

Since the pandemic forced the cancellation of the Faux Fur Ball—it was scheduled for March 28—the shelter’s brain trust has been working to come up with an alternative strategy to raise much-needed funds.

“Rather than trying to do a virtual ball, we’re planning a new event,” Hedges said. “It’s going to happen on Saturday, Feb. 13, 2021, and it will be at the Palm Springs Air Museum, called Palm Springs Animal Shelter Film Festival Presents: Love at the Drive-In. The entertainment focus will the Bow Wow Film Festival, which is a curated, national touring film festival focused on the dog-and-person bond we all share—but there will be a cat film or two thrown in there, because many of us love both cats and dogs. We’re going to make it an old-fashioned, ’50s type of drive-in experience, with delicious box-meals from Lulu (California Bistro), who’ll be catering, and it’s going to be a blast. The program will be on a big stage with a movie screen behind, and the attendees will be able to view the films from their cars, as well as a short program we’re presenting. So, it’s all outside in cars and super safe.”

Sponsors will be signed up in January, and guest tickets will go on sale shortly thereafter. Some of the money raised will hopefully be dedicated to a new program that provides funds to pet owners confronted with high veterinarian bills.

“We’re trying to (create a program that can offer aid) when pet owners come to us, and they’re surrendering a pet because they cannot afford to help the pet with whatever medical needs it has,” Amster said. “They think that’s the only option they have, the only way their pet is going to get help. We really don’t want to see that happen. We hope that if an animal has a broken leg, or if it has a tumor that’s not life-threatening, rather than having us take that pet in, fixing its issues and then adopting it out to a complete stranger, we want to provide the care for that pet and return it to its owner. We realize that veterinary care is financially out of reach for a lot of pet owners, and it’s something we feel somewhat responsible for.”

Hedges promised that the Best Annual Charity Event will return as well.

“We’ll still bring back the Faux Fur Ball next fall or in 2022,” Hedges said, “but this (new event) will be its own thing, and it will be a lot of fun. We’ll do some fundraising, friend-building and celebrating, because despite all that is hanging over our daily lives, there’s still a lot of love and joy. We see it every day at our shelter.”

For more information, visit

The surf is about to be up in the Coachella Valley.

The Thermal Beach Club is a private residential/vacation community being developed on the privately held Kohl Ranch land, just north of the Salton Sea. The developers hope its beaches and waves are open by 2023 to members—people who can either pay $1 million or more for one of the 326 homes, or $175,000 annually for a non-resident club membership.

Not surprisingly, some current residents of the Thermal and Oasis communities are dismayed by that prospect—and the marketing push being employed by their new neighbor has exacerbated their misgivings. That marketing promises an opulent lifestyle characterized as: “Adventure living. Wrapped in luxury.” Artist renderings and a promotional video reveal a 20-acre wave pool that will feature a continuous stream of waves in excess of six feet each.

“Our communities have remained undefended for generations,” said a representative of the grassroots east valley activist organization No Se Vende who requested anonymity. “It wasn’t just during my parents’ or my grandparents’ time. This is a longstanding issue of not prioritizing our needs, and not engaging with the (challenges) we go through on day-to-day basis. Obviously, this Thermal Beach Club project viewed our community as an afterthought. And, obviously, with such a high membership fee, the people of Thermal, especially (many) who are undocumented and part of the farmworker community, will never be able to access this.”

But proponents of the project—including six of the seven members of the Thermal-Oasis Community Council, as well as all five members of the Riverside County Board of Supervisors—view the buildout, in a disadvantaged region of Coachella Valley, as an opportunity that could jumpstart improvement in the area.

“Honestly, it’s a gut-wrenching scenario that takes place time and time again when we’re talking about land use,” said Riverside County District 4 Supervisor V. Manuel Perez during a recent phone interview. “Mind you, when we talk about the disadvantaged communities of the east end (of Coachella Valley), this particular issue had folks in support as well as against. On the ‘against’ side were the younger activists, while the support came more from individuals who are a bit older and want to see development. And it’s interesting, because if you look at the Thermal-Oasis Community Council, there was a … vote in support of the project, and we’re talking about individuals who grew up on the east end and, quite frankly, individuals who also own polanco (mobile home) parks, who see the importance of bringing in infrastructure. The challenge is how to do that with limited resources.

“So, I do look at this through the lens of social justice, like those individuals who are against this project, but I see how we get there from a different standpoint. I understand that we need clean drinking water. I understand that we need housing opportunities, and we need infrastructure as well as more community centers and parks. We’ve had a few listening sessions to have those discussions, and obviously, we’re going to have more of them. COVID-19 put a stop to that process. But, at the same time, when I think about all of this, the county is in a very limited position to make those type of (infrastructure) investments, especially now because of COVID. So, unfortunately, we have to rely on development from the private sector to ensure that we are able to provide the amenities, and frankly, the basic necessities, that our people deserve. … My colleagues on the Riverside County Board of Supervisors were amazed by what the developer was willing to do (for surrounding communities), aside from the usual costs of paying for permits and development impact fees. They’re demonstrating that the Kohl family members want to be good neighbors.”

Those benefits include a commitment to install water and sewer pipelines and hookups to connect with existing Coachella Valley Water District infrastructure in the area; a community benefit fund into which the Kohl family, through the developers, will pay $2,300 per unit, for a maximum of $750,000; a written “good faith” commitment to engage in a dialogue with the Board of Supervisors to identify land that can be utilized for affordable housing, with access to the new water and sewer infrastructure; a promise to hire local workers for 200 to 400 permanent jobs created by the project; a promise to procure materials and equipment locally; a promise to work with Desert Mirage High School to enable student access to the TBC facilities to learn how to surf; and county property-tax revenue that could eventually total $8.7 million annually.

Other opponents to the TBC development questioned whether there is enough water available to support the development. But according to Katie Evans, communications and conservation director at the Coachella Valley Water District, that is not an issue.

“The Coachella Valley Water District is not a land-use agency, and doesn’t have the authority to approve or deny any type of development,” Evans said. “Instead, our role is to evaluate the water-supply assessment and then provide the information to the land agency about our findings. Whenever a development comes in, they are required to evaluate the amount of water they are going to be using through formulas, and (by studying) past demand, building practices and plumbing codes, and provide that information to CVWD. … We analyzed (the information from Thermal Beach Club), and we do have the water supply to meet that demand.”

Thermal-Oasis Community Council member Matthew Melkesian voted in favor of the project. He said he has a background in low-income housing development—he is currently installing 40 manufactured homes in the eastern valley for the Riverside County Housing Authority—and Melkesian was impressed by the flexibility and generosity of the Kohl Ranch representatives.

“Any time you are able to have a wealthy developer foot the bill on behalf of the community, we are going to welcome that with open arms,” Melkesian said. “The amount of offsite improvements that they have committed to doing is really such an asset and incredible for the community. It’s one of those things that, unfortunately, people and residents take for granted, or they do not know the difficulty involved in the process of developing anything. That’s why I was one of the more-vocal advocates, because I have been a part of infrastructure and low-income housing projects.”

Did Melkesian believe that the young advocates who spoke out against the development were heard by the community council?

“We appreciate the community’s involvement,” Melkesian said. “I’d like to see more members of the community continue their political advocacy and take it a step further: Don’t just get involved in one development or one case that became emblematic of many of our society’s problems. We need to have our community speaking out about what the community needs consistently. It can’t just stop at this project. That’s the only way that lawmakers are going to make changes. … We need people to really speak up and say that we need low-income housing.”

Perez said a broader perspective is required to evaluate the community-changing potential of a development such as the Thermal Beach Club.

“We need mixed land use,” Perez said. “We need mixed income levels. We need mixed housing. We need diversity. Even the economists who are part of the UC Riverside economic forecasts have mentioned that: Moving forward, we can deal with society’s ills by being inclusionary of all these concepts. Quite honestly, I can say, having grown up on the east end of our valley, there’s a reason why it’s impoverished. There’s a reason why all of the development has been on the west end. … I’ve got to think about the fact that there were decisions made back in the day in which the east end was not included.”

Perez said he would ensure that the highly touted public benefits—some of which are described in rather vague terms in the current agreement—are fully realized.

“We made sure we got an agreement that within six months, we’ll start working on the specific plan, and that is going to provide us the opportunity to think about the acreage for affordable housing. Ultimately, what that means is re-writing the specific plan that was written 20 years ago. The developers agreed to that. Six months from now, if that doesn’t happen, that project, potentially, will not move forward. The same thing with the $750,000 community benefit fund. There will be checks and balances at the Board of Supervisors.

“Believe me, this was not easy. I’ve pondered it for over a year, and obviously, we want to make sure that we improve the conditions back home. I want to make sure I follow through on that. I think the east end deserves everything that the west end has. Why not?”

According to estimates provided by the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2014-2018 American Community Survey, there were 269,737 people with disabilities residing in Riverside County in 2018—representing 11.4 percent of the county’s total population.

More recently, the 2019 HARC Coachella Valley Community Health Survey reported that 74,389 people, or 21.8 percent of local adults, are limited in some way in their daily activities because of a physical, mental or emotional problem.

These Riverside County residents are the focus of the newly launched Palms to Pines Parasports (PPP) nonprofit organization. Driven by the indefatigable determination of board president and co-founder Michael Rosenkrantz, PPP announced its arrival with launch events in late October—one in Palm Desert, and the other in the city of Riverside.

PPP’s goal is to serve the needs of adaptive athletes—physically disabled individuals who participate in organized athletics.

“The idea is that we use sports as an entry point to leading a full life,” Rosenkrantz explained during a recent interview. “So we want to create a lot of sports opportunities to get people with physical disabilities more active, both physically and emotionally.”

For several months, Rosenkrantz has labored to recruit members to PPP’s fledgling board of directors and an advisory board. His efforts have resulted in the establishment of a 14-member board of directors that includes an array of local volunteers with relevant expertise and skill sets.

“You know, due to COVID-19, there’s a number of (board members) I’ve never met yet,” Rosenkrantz said. “We had a group of people who I knew already, due to our work with people who have disabilities. But we want to do more and provide more sporting opportunities, with the real focus on the adaptive athletes. We want to create a more welcoming environment. Basically, through networking—talking to this person who says, ‘Talk to that person’—it’s just grown. Everything is pointing in a positive direction.”

Most importantly, his early outreach efforts have succeeded in two invaluable relationships.

“We already have partnerships with the city of Riverside Department of Parks and Recreation, and an incredible one with the Desert Recreation District (here in Coachella Valley),” said Rosenkrantz, who previously worked at the Desert Ability Center. “Desert Rec has an adaptive-activities section with 14 sport wheelchairs that we can use. We bring expertise in terms of (conducting) various adaptive sports, and the Desert Recreation District has all the infrastructure. The same is true with Riverside. We won’t have to go and look for gyms, when they’re open. Right now, we’re able to use tennis courts or outdoor basketball courts.”

On the PPP website, the organization’s aspirations are spelled out: “Our purpose is to create a more-inclusive society by providing competitive and recreational opportunities for people with physical disabilities while instilling a lifelong passion for wellness, helping athletes realize their full potential. We envision a world in which adaptive athletes have the same opportunities to lead as full a life as their able-bodied peers. … We go to extraordinary lengths to identify potential and current athletes, (and) to meet them where they are in their life journey. This means engaging with athletes and their families on the playing field, in rehab facilities, hospitals, their homes and/or any other location that is comfortable.”

Karina Melgar is the founder and director of the recently launched LEAPS Services, as well as a PPP board member. With more than a decade of experience working in the field of special education, she was an early champion of Rosenkrantz’s vision.

“Mike and I began a conversation, because PPP is focusing on (supporting individuals with) physical disability, (while) I have so many young adults that have these cognitive intellectual disabilities,” Melgar said during an interview. “Mike and I thought it would be great to bring both organizations together, because it can be a unique learning experience where (these two approaches) could help one another. Since the individuals with cognitive intellectual disability are physically able, we can team them up in pairs to work together in doing any of the physical activities (that PPP offers). Right now, we’d like to empower the individuals with physical disabilities to help increase the communication (skills) of those individuals with cognitive intellectual disability. Also, improving socialization can help individuals with cognitive intellectual disability to grow.”

It is this multi-pronged approach to improving the lives of people with disabilities that makes PPP’s strategy distinctive.

“I was fortunate to be a part of the very first meetings where we started brainstorming what these programs could look like,” Melgar said. “It was very exciting to see these endless opportunities coming to fruition. We don’t have something like this in our valley, so it’s great that PPP will make so much possible.”

Rosenkrantz and his team recently launched—and are actively recruiting participants for—an impressive list of weekly adaptive-sports activities, including wheelchair tennis and basketball, archery, cycling and boccia. Also being offered, especially during this pandemic time, are a selection of virtual quality-of-life engagement opportunities.

“We’ll be running outdoor activities where we social-distance and wear masks,” Rosenkrantz said. “People just can’t wait to come out. But we’ve got to be aware of what’s happening (with COVID-19), so we just started doing a Zoom-Facebook Live (broadcast) every Friday morning at 9 a.m. to let people know about all the activities that are going on in the next week. So if someone wants to do something in person, they can, or if they’re more comfortable doing things online, there’s art stuff and baking stuff. There are support groups, fitness and gymnastics. We’re doing a ton of stuff, and there are a lot of people who can benefit from all of it.”

While the PPP board members and instructors are volunteering their services at this stage, substantial funding will be needed to finance the extensive goals of this ambitious entity.

“The funding piece is an issue for every organization right now,” Rosenkrantz said. “… We do have a GoFundMe campaign running. People can make donations to that. Also, I’m working with Desert Rec and the city of Riverside to apply for grants through them in helping to run programs for them. It’s going to come together.

“There’s so much need. In doing our business plan, we did a competitive analysis, and in Riverside County—including the city of Riverside, where there are absolutely no adaptive sports—there’s this gigantic need that we’re hoping to fill. I’m really pleased to see all of this collaboration with all these groups coming together and understanding that it’s really all about the people that we’re serving. Yes, we want our organizations to be successful, but it’s more about getting people active.”

For more information, visit or To contribute to the fundraiser, visit

On April 2, with COVID-19 establishing itself as both a financial and fatal threat, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed an executive order prohibiting water shutoffs by local water agencies.

The order applied to all homes and small businesses in the state, protecting them from losing their access to water due to the nonpayment of service fees.

“This executive order will help people who have been financially impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic by ensuring they have water service,” Gov. Newsom said at the time. “Water is critical to our very lives, and in this time, it is critically important that it is available for everyone.”

Today, nearly seven months have passed since then, and the state is still mired in the pandemic—so questions are beginning to arise about how much debt is being accumulated, not only by the state’s water providers, but by customers who can’t afford to keep up with payments.

An Oct. 15 article from CalMatters reported: “The State Water Resources Control Board regulates all public water systems in California, serving close to 85 percent of the state’s customers. The board hasn’t required the utilities under its purview to report specific data about how the pandemic has had an impact on their finances, nor has it tracked ratepayer debt. Initial efforts over the summer to collect some of that information from water providers through a voluntary survey fell short” when only 10 percent of the state’s approximately 2,900 public-water systems responded.

The Independent spoke to representatives from two of the largest Coachella Valley water agencies to assess the impacts of this moratorium on their operations. To their credit, the directors at both the Coachella Valley Water District (CVWD) and the Desert Water Agency (DWA) voted on their own to enact water-shutoff moratoriums in March, weeks prior to the governor’s order.

“Right now, we have 510 accounts, out of a total of 23,492 active accounts, that are severely delinquent, which means they’re somewhere between five and nine months past due,” said Ashley Metzger, the outreach and conservation manager at the DWA. “Also, we have about 1,240 accounts that are delinquent, meaning at least two to five months past due. So, overall, we have 1,750 past-due accounts.”

Katie Evans, the director of communication and conservation at the CVWD, was less specific, but said the impact of the shutoff moratorium has been “exactly what we expected.”

“Every year, we generate around $1 million in late or delinquency fees. So we’re now anticipating that won’t happen (for the 2020-2021 fiscal year). In the meantime, other revenue hasn’t really changed much,” Evans said.

Is the shortfall in customer payments causing a cashflow problem for the CVWD?

“We have a reserve fund called the rate-stabilization fund,” Evans said. “It’s very specific for (an unusual occurrence) like this. It ensures that we have funds if there’s a major change in revenue. The intention there is to prevent a big spike in consumer rates in order to compensate for a catastrophic change in revenues due to some crazy situation like a pandemic. So, I think we’re fine, because we have that reserve available.”

To date, CVWD has not yet needed to tap into that reserve.

One reason why cashflow hasn’t yet become a major issue for these local water providers is the valley-wide customer-payment assistance program in which they’ve all opted to participate, administered by the United Way of the Desert. According to the United Way website, The “Help2Others” (or “H2O”) program helps eligible residential customers avoid water-service shutoffs due to nonpayment. Agencies across the Coachella Valley offer between $50 and $100 in annual credits.

(To find out about the program, visit

“We have experienced a 200 percent increase in demand for participation in the assistance program,” CVWD’s Evans said. “That’s actually kind of good news, because that means customers who are having trouble paying their bills, instead of just letting it accumulate, are reaching out for customer assistance to get help to pay their bill.”

Currently, both agencies contribute “non-rate” revenues to the H2O program, and at times, other ancillary revenues have been directed there, including water-vendor contributions, public donations and contributions from employees of the agencies themselves.

“Our fund was actually started using employee contributions and money from vendors,” DWA’s Metzger said. “It helps low-income customers when they need it. Also, what we really liked when we set up the program is that the United Way can connect our customers with other social services and resources, so that it’s more of a holistic approach.”

Looking ahead at the financial picture, Metzger reports some positive developments at the DWA in the July-September period—the first quarter of the new fiscal year.

“We’re actually tracking under budget for expenses, which is good,” she said. “Year-to-date, in our operating fund, expenses were 12 percent under budget, while our revenues are (tracking) 7 percent over budget projections.”

That good news didn’t happen by accident, though. The DWA’s fiscal 2021 budget was being prepared when the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, and the extent of the potential financial losses became apparent quickly.

“Our general manager, Mark Krause, told us all: ‘I don’t want to see a wish list. I don’t want to see a want list. I want to see a need list,’” Metzger said. “Basically, he said that if there’s (an expense) that isn’t imperative to do this year, then we don’t want to do it this year.”

Over at the CVWD, Evans reported: “The 2021 fiscal-year budget maintains current rates for domestic water, (as well as) canal and construction meter charges, and includes no increases in staffing for the district.” The operating budget decreased by 3.8 percent ($11.1 million) year over year, while the capital-improvement budget saw a 23.2 percent ($29.4 million) cut.

Still, there is much uncertainty about what the future holds regarding the longer-term costs and the potential debt problems lurking beneath the surface. No specific date has been set by the state for ending the moratorium.

As for when the moratorium ends, Metzger offered some words of comfort.

“It’s not as if the day that the moratorium ends, we’re going to shut everybody off,” she said. “We’ll work with people to set up payment plans so that they can get (their finances) back in order.”

In 2013, there were approximately 267,000 undocumented LGBT immigrants in the United States, according to the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law.

We were unable to find more-recent data on this community—and were also unable to determine the number of LGBTQ detainees held currently in the 211 detention centers operating in the United States, privately owned or under the aegis of U.S. Customs and Border Protection. However, there is anecdotal evidence that sizeable numbers undocumented LGBT immigrants are, in fact, being held in abusive conditions throughout our country.

This reality first caught the attention of Ubaldo Boido and his partner, Craig Scott, when they were living comfortably in Los Angeles with their dog, Twink. They moved to Palm Springs in September of last year.

“We got involved with the Los Angeles chapter of Democratic Socialists of America,” Boido said during a recent phone interview. “They have an immigration-justice committee that wanted to go down to Tijuana to visit shelters because of the immigrant caravans at that time. So, I went along, (and while there), we visited an LGBTQ shelter I’d heard about in Tijuana. That’s when we realized that this was something that really hit close to home for us. This was our LGBTQ community coming to this border-crossing point seeking refuge from persecution. We met Jamaican women, people from Honduras and someone from Brazil. We listened to these horror stories about the violence that people go through in other countries just for being queer. It was something that lit a fire in both of us, and we said, ‘How can we help? We’ve got to help.’ So we did that for a year, and then we moved here and decided to continue doing the same work.”

So it was that Desert Support for Asylum Seekers (DSFAS) came to be.

“We wanted to help people understand the process (of seeking asylum) so that they could then figure out ways to support (these undocumented immigrants),” Boido said. “We discovered there was an immigration detention facility in Calexico (the Imperial Regional Detention Center), and we decided we would begin by supporting people there. Now that’s what Desert Support for Asylum Seekers does. It’s about pen pals, visitation coordination and then helping people when they get released with transportation, shelter and food. We’ve enrolled several people at College of the Desert for ESL (English as a second language) classes, and kind of helped them get acclimated to the community here.”

Other, more-established nonprofits like the TODEC Legal Center provide important assistance in our region, while DSFAS has focused attention on other real-world assistance. However, it didn’t take long for Boido and Scott to realize this challenge required more attention and outreach than just the two of them could manage.

“We wanted to create this volunteer group,” Boido said. “Let’s be honest: Most people are interested in helping children in these circumstances. Now, that’s not a bad thing, and I’m not suggesting it is. I’m simply saying that children light a fire under straight people. … But for us, it’s always been about this LGBTQ thing—but we didn’t want to limit (the reach) of DSFAS, because we wanted to see how big of a volunteer group we could create. Since then, the group has really championed people from all walks of life, and we love that. Still, Craig’s and my calling has been about helping LGBTQ migrants.”

Once volunteers began joining in, DSFAS started to fulfill its core missions more demonstrably.

“My partner, Craig, went down to Calexico with a group,” Boido said. “They scheduled a visitation, met several of the detainees there and started a pen-pal visitation coordinator group. Our name started to spread like wildfire (within the detention center), and word of our efforts spread. We started to get lots of pen pals, and we got a lot of people reaching out and asking how they could support us. So right now, we have a list of about 60 to 80 volunteers who are actively writing letters to people in Imperial Regional.”

Still, the most-challenging support scenarios had yet to surface.

“The detention center was dropping people at the downtown Calexico Greyhound station,” Boido said. “Even after the station was closed, (Border Patrol was) leaving them to fend for themselves. So we started this coordinator group to pick up people and get them on a bus, or get them here to Palm Springs where we could get them on a flight.

“One night, we got a call about a guy from Honduras who was gay and had just won the status called ‘withholding of removal.’ But he didn’t have anywhere to go to live. They asked us if we would be willing to house him, and we agreed to let him stay on our couch for a while. It was supposed to be for two weeks, but he stayed for almost seven months. It was both a challenging and an amazing experience. Since then, he’s moved to Los Angeles, gotten his work papers and has started his life. That experience changed our whole perspective. The truth is, when you’re LGBTQ, you come here with nobody, and you’re (often) actually fleeing your family, because they’re usually the ones persecuting you and helping the police come after you.”

Boido and Scott have realized they need to obtain a bigger home where they can house LGBTQ immigrants in need of assistance.

“Since the guy from Honduras, we’ve housed a transgender woman from Russia who moved to New York City, and another person who is still living in the Palm Springs area,” Boido said. “So this migrant home we want to create, that we call The House, is a safe space for our queer family coming from all over the world. We want to focus the energies that we’ve generated through DSFAS and create a little niche for the LGBTQ folks who we love and want to support on their journeys.

“We decided to launch this (GoFundMe) campaign. … We’ve had offers for homes, and we just want to push forward to raise more funds and create this space. Ideally, we’re interested in making it a safe house so that people can come, short-term or long-term, and have a place while they go through their immigration process. We’re just really excited about it.”

As the first year of DSFAS’ work draws to a close, how are the founders coping with the demands of dealing with the U.S. government while trying to help victims of persecution start new and happier lives?

“Being honest,” Boido said, “this is hard work, and it’s emotionally draining. There are days when I ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this?’ It’s not like there’s a huge payoff, and we’re getting a big check. But watching that transgender woman come here and seeing her try on a dress and wear makeup for the first time, and really own her transwoman self, it changes you. It really changes you—and I can’t go back. I can’t un-see how we helped somebody, and how we’ve listened to the stories of where they’ve come from and what they’ve been through.

“The GoFundMe campaign is about getting a bigger house, so that we can house more people,” Boido said. “And, hopefully, from there, we can form into a nonprofit officially. But the urgency is now. What we’ve noticed is that, yes, we can house somebody, but for that one person, there are 40 or 100 more still imprisoned in a horrible, horrible place. They’re treated like criminals, stripped of their belongings, and they have to wear a blue jumpsuit all the time. They eat rotten food. You can’t believe the horror stories that we’ve heard. They are unimaginable. You wouldn’t believe that this is what the ‘land of the free’ is doing to people who are trying to get here.”

For more information on Desert Support for Asylum Seekers, visit For more information on the GoFundMe campaign for The House, visit

Cathedral City will soon to become the site of the valley’s third Agua Caliente casino—giving a centerpiece to the “downtown” area city leaders have long been attempting to bolster.

However, the casino will open in the middle of a pandemic that has crippled many valley businesses—and sickened many Cathedral City residents. As of Oct. 11, 1,992 residents of Cathedral City have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2—the third-most among the valley’s nine cities—and 32 Cathedral City residents have died.

At this critical point in the history of this mid-valley community, residents will be voting to fill two City Council seats during the Tuesday, Nov. 3, election. In District 1, incumbent councilmember Rita Lamb is opposed by former Public Arts Commission leader Alan Carvalho.

The Independent spoke to all four candidates recently about issues impacting their neighborhoods, including short-term vacation rentals, pandemic safety concerns, and the need for civility in public discourse—which is particularly important in the District 1 election, given the history between Carvalho and Lamb. What follows are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

Alan Carvalho, semi-retired videographer/video editor

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City in 2021?

This is probably not what one would have expected to say last year, but no doubt (right now) it’s COVID-19 and public health and safety. Public safety has always been a priority for me, and I think for the city as well as the council. But, especially now, it’s important for all of us to take responsibility and not expect the county, or the state, or even the feds to tell us how to be safe.

I’m proud that our city mayor, John Aguilar took the initiative, in spite of the fact that it may be the county’s duty, to decide our safety measures. He took it upon himself to speak with Supervisor (V. Manuel) Perez and ask for special funding that he wanted to use for public-service announcements, advertisements and billboards to remind people to please be safe, use your masks and keep your social-distancing. Even though we can say it’s not our responsibility per se, keeping people safe, I think, is always everybody’s responsibility, and especially council members when they are elected.

Obviously, then you can tie it into the economics. I was proud that my husband, Shelley Kaplan, who was a councilmember from 2014-18, and myself were instrumental in making sure that cannabis was an option for our city. The conservative council at the time was definitely set against it. But once we threatened to petition the city to put it on the ballot, they realized that there are way too many benefits, especially economic benefits. As a result of bringing the cannabis industry in (to Cathedral City), we have accumulated $21 million in cash reserves, and $5 million of that was used recently for maintaining our public safety officers. So it’s important that we balance our economics with the public safety, but public safety must always be the priority. I don’t want to ignore the economic impacts, but it’s super-important that if we can be safe and really follow the rules, we may not have to wait more than a month or two before we are fully opened. The problem is that we all have to agree. That’s in the best interests of everyone.

The Cathedral City mission statement includes these two descriptors: “valuing fairness, balance and trust” and “honoring our similarities and differences.” However, relationships between some of this year's City Council candidates have been decidedly contentious and uncivil. What can you say to assure voters that, should you be elected, you will strive to demonstrate those laudable qualities while fulfilling your sworn responsibilities to residents and fellow councilmembers?

First of all, I’m proud to be a progressive Democrat, but this is a nonpartisan seat, and even though, hopefully, I will be elected this November to this district seat, once we’re in office, we are no longer a district representative solely. I think that the council needs to be reminded of that, because we represent the city, and it’s important that we don’t feel we’re dealing with issues only in our own districts. I want all of us to be able to share the responsibility, because my one vote isn’t going to matter unless I can get the cooperation of two more votes. So it is crucially important that we all learn to work well together.

I’m outspoken, and I defend the rights of those who don’t feel engaged in the city. I’m proud of that. But I know from being the chair of the Public Arts Commission for five out of the six years I served, that being in that space on the City Council room dais and being in the center seat, it really makes you realize how important it is to be super-fair-minded and to listen to all voices, and to encourage everybody to say what they feel, and to feel safe in doing that. So, that’s how I’ve conducted myself, and that’s how I will as a City Council member. If you have an opinion which is not City Council-related but personal—because we are all residents and citizens along with being on the council—I think that a council member should actually step off of the dais and speak in front of (the council) where members of the public speak from. That is an option that we obviously have, and again, I would remind our councilmembers that we are civil servants who are here to serve the needs of the public. It is not a position that is granted to us without the popular vote, so it is important that we respect those who voted, give them our ear, and pay attention to their needs. And when they write an email, or send a text, or make phone call, we should respond immediately. That’s how I am, and I’ve been that way since long before I ran for office.

The City Council recently voted unanimously to approve an ordinance phasing out short-term vacation rentals in much of Cathedral City. Since resident supporters of vacation rentals have issued threats of legal action against the city as a result, do you think the City Council should revisit this issue in the coming year?

That’s a great question, and I’m the only person running for office now who is in favor of the short-term vacation-rental option. I think that the council was rushed in their judgment. Our city manager, Charlie McClendon, did a phenomenal job of gathering a task force, as the City Council requested him to do. In the process, he had people in favor and against, and they discussed and met for hours at a time over a whole year. Then they came together and put together a 750-page document describing the good and the bad aspects. But when (the task force) voted, it was 7-6 in favor of short-term vacation rentals with strict guidelines, laws to follow and with strict penalties.

A friend of mine who lives in Palm Springs asked me to help him manage a visit by two guests coming to his vacation rental while he was gone visiting family this past June. I told him that I didn’t know what I was doing. I’d never done it before, and I told him that I’m not personally in favor of vacation rentals. But he told me he didn’t have anyone else he could ask in the middle of the summer. So I said if I can be safe, and wear my mask and do all of my speaking at a distance, then I’d agree. He told me that all I had to do was let the renters know where things are in the house; what the code was to get into the house; let them know they can contact me if they need anything; and, most importantly, I had to get them to sign a required contract. This was the contract that requires them to follow the very strict rules put in place by the city of Palm Springs. That contract stated clearly that while they were guests in that neighborhood in Palm Springs, they could not play any music or make any noise out of the ordinary. And there could be no music played whatsoever in the outdoor space, except through headsets. The guests were told in advance that they had to follow the contract, or they could not stay.

Now, I was totally unaware of the strict codes that were given to guests (in Palm Springs). The last paragraph of that contract said that if anyone violated any ordinance regarding vacation rentals, the homeowner would not be responsible, but the renter at the time of the violation is the one who has to pay any fines. So, I thought that as successful as this Palm Springs policy has been, we should hire the same people that advised them on how to do it right, and get them to come to our city, and then we could revisit. I do fear a lawsuit, but more importantly, I think we can find a compromise. Obviously, as a homeowner in Cathedral City, I want to be sensitive to the needs of our residents and my neighbors. But the noise issues I’ve had in the past have not been from vacation rentals, but from residents. Seeing that there has been a history of noise problems in the Panorama Park section of town, I would suggest that we look at the possibility of regulating vacation rentals by district.

Now, I live in District 1, and I don’t have any issues, because people are following the rules. But if in a couple of months, we find out that they’re not following the rules, then we might want to go back to council and talk about putting a moratorium on it, because people aren’t following the rules. The same would hold true for the Panorama Park area. If they have serious issues, then I don’t think it’s fair for them to shut down vacation rentals for the whole city. I also think that we shouldn’t be willing to open up the whole city if they’re having problems that they would like to be addressed. That would be my compromise.

Also, I think that especially during this COVID-19 pandemic, when people may be struggling to pay their rent or their mortgage, if they had the option to rent their space, that would be something that we should not deny to property owners. Even if we decided to close down vacation rentals altogether, I think that during this time of COVID-19, we should have full enforcement, but we should move (the timeline) forward. They’re talking about closing down (vacation rentals) within the year. They’ve mentioned two years, but I think they’re destined to close it down sooner rather than later. The writing, to me, is on the wall. When we had to lay people off recently, of the five members of code enforcement, which is crucial to overseeing vacation rentals, three of them were laid off, which left two (employees), and one of them was on sick leave. Now we have one person to enforce all the rules on vacation rentals in our city?

As of this interview, Cathedral City ranks third in total COVID-19 cases out of the nine Coachella Valley cities, and fourth in deaths. Although the City Council extended its COVID-19 public-restrictions policy through the end of this year, do you think there is more that the city government should be doing in response to the health threats posed by this pandemic?

No matter what the City Council does, no matter what any government is going to do, there’s always more we can do. With this COVID-19, there was truly nothing that any of us could have seriously prepared for. There’s no way that, last year at this time, we would ever dream that this is where our lives would be this year. So we clearly need to be focused on keeping people alive, because dead people don’t shop. Dead people don’t go to the gym. Dead people don’t get haircuts, and don’t stimulate the economy. So it’s super important that those who are interested in maintaining economic development (understand) that if we don’t feel safe (as a community), and our county and our city have numbers that are alarming, or even disconcerting, we need to do whatever it takes to keep all of us safe.

Even though it’s the duty of the council to keep us safe, it’s also the duty of each of us. When we see someone who’s simply not following the rules, we have to kindly remind them that masks and social distancing don’t just keep them safe; they keep all of us safe. We have to really work cooperatively. It’s not a political issue. It’s a safety issue. And once it becomes a political issue, then it really distracts from it. You know, having a political point of view is a luxury. But again, you have to be alive to have an opinion. If you’re dead, or in a hospital, or you’re suffering, nothing political matters to you. You just want to survive.

So my focus is making sure that we do focus in on COVID, work on a vaccine, but please remind people every day that we have got to follow the rules. That means putting billboards up. The billboard out in front of City Hall—let’s use that regularly to remind people that we have ordinances in the city, and we need to follow them. Whether the city does a mailing, or they blast it on every page of the city webpages, I just want it to be that important (of an issue) and a very crucial priority for our city, and for the whole country.

What issue impacting Cathedral City should we have asked you about? What are your thoughts on how to address that issue?

As a proud member of the LGBTQ community, and having been together with Shelley for 48 years, I am obviously very sensitive to human rights. I am very sensitive to equal rights for women, for the Latino community, for the Black community, for the gay community, for the seniors, for the veterans. I’m for everybody being treated fairly. But, unfortunately, we can’t take those things for granted. So, just as Palm Springs has a human rights (commission), I would like to have that happen in our city. I think it’s important that we embrace our diversity. I’m proud to be part of such an incredibly diverse city. And yet, as I walk through my district, not everybody feels engaged. Not everybody feels that City Hall is really representing them. One proposal I would like to make, in alignment with my proposal for a human rights commission, is that we (utilize) these (events) we have now called “The City In Your Corner.” They provide an opportunity for two members of the council at a time to go to restaurants, or social gatherings, where they could meet on more casual basis with residents at various times of the day and on various days of the week. We’ve been doing that on Zoom lately.

I would recommend, when it’s safe, that we have block parties in areas and neighborhoods where the folks don’t know about City Hall, don’t know who their elected officials are, and may not even vote. We need them to understand their importance in our community. And the best way to do that, to me, is not going to this beautiful space called City Hall. How about City Hall not just going into their communities (via) restaurants or other businesses, but into the neighborhoods? So why not do a little block party in a neighborhood where we can get food, everybody brings potluck, where we can all share the experience of being with each other, and learn from each other? So instead of politicians getting on a stage with a megaphone, we can talk one on one with people, and engage with them. We’re not there to be presentational. We’re there to listen to the needs of the community.

When I lived in Cambridge (Mass.), we would have block parties. We’d get the required permit, and we’d block the street off. We would all bring potluck, and we all knew each other as neighbors, but we got to know each other even better. So, why not? If I’m going to have a block party in the north quadrant of my District 1, I’m going to invite all of the councilmembers, because again, all of the councilmembers represent the whole city. So I think if we can spread the news about having these types of block parties to engage our residents, then I think they’ll get a clue that we really are reaching out to them. And that’s how we’ll do it.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during this pandemic?

I always thought that if I had to be at home for an extended period of time, I would watch as many movies as I could, because I love movies. But, you know, there are only so many movies you can watch. So we’ve been finding that Zoom meetings are phenomenal. Even though you’re not meeting someone in person, you really get to stimulate your mind. You’re looking at a screen, but the screen talks back to you. When you’re watching a movie, you just sit back passively. But to be able to interact with people through Zoom, whether it’s at my Rotary meetings, or my historical preservation valley-wide meeting, or the City Council meetings that have been Zoomed sometimes, or the local Democratic meetings—whatever the meeting may be, I’ve been super-surprised at how much I enjoy those Zoom meetings. Of course, I would prefer that they were held in person. But I’m surprised at how much we’re all adjusting to this option. And we respectfully wait our turn (to speak on Zoom), unlike at the debates we’ve seen nationally. We raise our virtual hand, and we’re listening to each other and learning from each other, and we’re moving it forward. So I’m excited about this option.

I’m a social person. I like movies, but you’re not very social at a movie. So I do think it’s important that we can express our creativity and our opinions and our free speech through an outlet like Zoom. So that’s been one of my favorite things to do. And, of course, under the (current) circumstances that I’m personally involved in as a candidate, I’m talking to folks, which I actually enjoy. I really like this, because it gives me an opportunity to share my feelings and my passions for the city. You know, we moved from Cambridge some eight or nine years ago to live here full time. If you told me either Shelley or I would run for office or get as seriously involved in the city as we’ve both become, I would have told you that there was no way. We came here to retire. But when we finally moved here full time, we met Greg Pettis; we met council members; we attended virtually every meeting, (except) for two, since 2012. As a result, I’ve gathered a lot of experience, intuition and knowledge through watching these meetings. When Shelley ran for office, I was his campaign manager. I’d never run an election, and he’d never run for office. We did it. It was an at-large (election), and we won by 500 votes. This was an unknown person who had literally just moved here. So we just hit it out of the ballpark, and we felt very good.

Me, this year, I’m running. Shelley decided he didn’t want to. He’s concerned about the COVID, and he’s also 75 years old—and he’s starting to get used to enjoying his free time. In so much as he was one of the best council members that this city has ever seen—and that comes from the former mayors Stan Henry and Greg Pettis—I’ve been involved, too. When Shelley was first appointed to the Planning Commission in 2013, I was appointed to the Public Arts Commission. So we knew that we could be involved in the city, but I liked it, because he’d meet with the Planning Commission maybe twice a month, and I was meeting once a month, so we still had our free time.

But the more I got involved in public arts, the more excited I was about becoming the city’s most activist commission that the city has ever experienced. In the five to six years that I was on the commission, we put so much artwork and murals into the city—and we created the opportunity to engage in the community by providing what they call “live art.” We staged a competition at the Mary Pickford Theatre where the best digital artwork and movies could compete, and the best could be shown at the Pickford. We were very proud of that, and we were very proud of the programs at the Senior Center that public arts was able to provide (in conjunction with) the Boys and Girls Club. So we had an opportunity to do as much as we could really possibly do. And I’m proud of my involvement in every events committee that the city ever put together, including LGBTQ Days, the Taste of Jalisco celebrations, and the Balloon Festival, among others. Every opportunity offered, I wanted to be a part of it. And I’m proud to have worked so well with the city.

A couple of years ago, we did a thing called Santa’s Village. There used to be a parade to celebrate Christmas, but with concerns about terrorism, we decided we should beautify downtown at the holidays, and make these murals that looked like old big city department storefronts, like Filene’s in Boston, like a little winter wonderland. And we did 10 of them. It was such a great success and so well received that we decided to make 10 more. So we now have 20 storefronts decorated. And then the storefronts were offered to businesses (as marketing opportunities), so they could put their name on it for a fee. Now they get to be involved in the process. We get to raise some money, and everybody wins. Obviously, this year, all events have been put on hold. But everything is still in storage, and when it’s appropriate to bring (all the holiday artwork) back out, that will be another tradition

Rita Lamb, retired educator, incumbent City Council member

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City in 2021?

It’s the same issue facing all of the cities, and that is the fallout from the pandemic. It’s definitely a health crisis that’s created other crises that are looming in our particular city. Just one example: I was at the Agua Caliente Elementary School recently, and they were having a pop-up event that was called United Lift. It’s a program combining the resources of the United Way and Lift to Rise, which is a local nonprofit that provides rental assistance for qualifying folks, and it was very well attended. That’s just one of the issues that has really impacted Cathedral City, and I’m proud of the fact that, as part of the City Council, we had emergency orders in place very quickly regarding mask-wearing and social distancing. Also, we supported a huge communications campaign letting folks know that, in the absence of any national directive, it’s up to us to keep each other safe and help slow the spread (of the Covid-19 virus) and restore some sort of economic stability. I’m not a soothsayer, but I think that’s going to take us a while. So, that is definitely the No. 1 issue.

The Cathedral City mission statement includes these two descriptors: “valuing fairness, balance and trust” and “honoring our similarities and differences.” However, relationships between some of this year's City Council candidates have been decidedly contentious and uncivil. What can you say to assure voters that, should you be elected, you will strive to demonstrate those laudable qualities while fulfilling your sworn responsibilities to residents and fellow councilmembers?

As a person who has thrived, loved and been attracted to public service, I realize that the essential element in any type of public service is to focus on who your clients are. In my case, as an elementary school principal, it was definitely the children. And here (on the City Council), it’s the residents. I know I bring stability, sense and sincerity to this position.

I was elected last year in a special election that followed the passing of our mayor, Greg Pettis, who died unexpectedly. At that time, (any member of) the community was offered an opportunity to apply for the position, because the council at that time had considered appointing someone. So there were 16 of us who submitted applications, went through the process and came before the City Council. That council meeting was very contentious, and a decision was made by the council to put it up to a vote of the community. There were just two of us, Mr. Shelley Kaplan and myself (who would up running for the seat). This has been my first foray into the political arena, although I have been in public service for many years. I was a principal in the Desert Sands Unified School District. I retired from there, and then spent five years on the Public Arts Commission here. I read in the newspaper that they were offering this opportunity for commission spots, and I jumped at the chance, and I loved it. Then, after five years, I went back to work as a school principal in the Coachella Valley Unified School District. I retired from there, and then I was asked if I’d like to take a position on the Cathedral City Senior Center executive board, so I did that for three years.

Now, I am very proud to have been endorsed by our mayor and the rest of the city councilmembers, who’ve said that I’m a person of integrity and honesty, and that I come prepared. You know, just a little while ago, someone texted me to say that they disagreed with me on some question, and they thought I was supposed to represent (the interests) of District 1 voters. And I replied that I do—I absolutely do. But when we come to council, our decision-making is based on forward thinking and the best interests of all the residents. So, an essential part is that we each have the opportunity and the vision to look beyond, and see what we can bring to the Cathedral City community, to the residents and the businesses.

The City Council recently voted unanimously to approve an ordinance phasing out short-term vacation rentals in much of Cathedral City. Since resident supporters of vacation rentals have issued threats of legal action against the city as a result, do you think the City Council should revisit this issue in the coming year?

You know, I can’t speak for every member on the City Council, but first, I’d like to say how proud I am of the city staff, the city manager, our council liaison—who was Mayor John Aguilar—and all of the residents who were part of the task force and who willingly stepped up to the plate and advocated for their positions for over a year. Talk about doing the business of the public in public—this was a herculean effort, and I’m just so proud of everyone involved. Between all the City Council meetings and the time devoted to individual public comments, there were two large town halls (held as well). One was at the Cathedral City Library, and there was another one at City Hall. And then the task force met monthly in person until COVID hit. Still, there were at-length discussions about all the possibilities. Then, when recommendations came to us in July, we devoted a whole day to all of the materials, all of the documentation and more public comments. And we had a chance to review all of the recommendations from the task force, of which I think there were a little over 90. So, in the final analysis, the decision contained something for everybody. The residents wanted their neighborhoods to be preserved. That was the original issue—that neighborhoods were being compromised because of the activities around these short-term rentals. So now, the neighborhoods are restored. There is enough time for people to repurpose their property, if that needs to happen. Homeowner associations that have quality control and a service component as part of their CCRs stay the same. For those folks who have home-sharing, that’s fine. So I thought it was brilliant. I’m glad to be part of such a well-rounded and thought-out solution.

As of this interview, Cathedral City ranks third in total COVID-19 cases out of the nine Coachella Valley cities, and fourth in deaths. Although the City Council extended its COVID-19 public-restrictions policy through the end of this year, do you think there is more that the city government should be doing in response to the health threats posed by this pandemic?

I can’t say anything definitively, but our city has so many service workers (living here). My husband and I are retired, so it’s a luxury (for us) to be able to stay home and follow all the guidelines. But not everybody has that (opportunity).

Our director of economic development is Stone James, and he was at the forefront of making sure that our community got the monies it needed, and were entitled to, and he helped start our ‘Great Plates’ program. Many restaurants got involved in this program, and something like 270 qualifying seniors and families were given (food) assistance through it. So, what else we can do? I don’t know. That remains to be seen.

We’re advocating continually for more county, state and federal funding, and Stone James has been the point person in making sure that our city acts in a timely manner and gets right on it. We have two websites: and Our marketing and communications director, Chris Parman, keeps them updated on a daily basis and communicates to the residents that there’s help out there and available, but they need to ask. And for us, it’s being active and getting out into the community to let them know we’re here for them. It’s a terrifying time. It’s a global emergency, and our economy is definitely uncertain.

What issue impacting Cathedral City should we have asked you about? What are your thoughts on how to address that issue?

Actually, one of the questions that I get asked frequently is: How will the city address issues related to the new (Agua Caliente) casino? No. 1, the casino is a great asset to our community, but it’s also going to bring in lots of traffic, so folks who are used to kind of the Mayberry perception of the Cathedral City Cove, that has not too much traffic, are concerned about how that’s going to be addressed, and what’s going to go into (adjacent) vacant lots. That area used to be called the pedestrian-friendly corridor when that stretch of Palm Canyon (Drive) was newly redone, and since I’ve lived in the desert for many, many years, I saw this happen. The road narrows right in front of City Hall, and it gets a little tight. So people were concerned about how to address that. They’re going to address it by waiting to see what happens, and then (initiating) a traffic-control study. Then if they need to, they’ll modify some of the streets around there. They’ve already widened Buddy Rogers (Avenue) from Date Palm (Drive), and it kind of serpentines through to just north of the casino, up on Palm Canyon. But residents are concerned about congestion in that area.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during this pandemic?

Oh! Binge-watching House of Cards. It’s a complete and total indulgence. My husband thinks I’m totally ridiculous, but it’s fun.

Cathedral City will soon to become the site of the valley’s third Agua Caliente casino—giving a centerpiece to the “downtown” area city leaders have long been attempting to bolster.

However, the casino will open in the middle of a pandemic that has crippled many valley businesses—and sickened many Cathedral City residents. As of Oct. 11, 1,992 residents of Cathedral City have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2—the third-most among the valley’s nine cities—and 32 Cathedral City residents have died.

At this critical point in the history of this mid-valley community, residents will be voting to fill two City Council seats during the Tuesday, Nov. 3, election. In District 2, a pair of new candidates, Nancy Ross and JR Corrales, are seeking a four-year term.

The Independent spoke to all both candidates recently about issues impacting their neighborhoods, including short-term vacation rentals, pandemic safety concerns, and the need for civility in public discourse. What follows are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

JR Corrales, business owner

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City in 2021?

The most important issue facing Cathedral City is how we can move forward with the pandemic and deal with the backlash of COVID-19. But another big challenge we face moving forward as a city is how to adapt to the new casino. How do we build around it and bring more businesses back to Cathedral City? We need to be more receptive to diversifying and to meeting the needs of our citizens to attract businesses.

The Cathedral City mission statement includes these two descriptors: “valuing fairness, balance and trust” and “honoring our similarities and differences.” However, relationships between some of this year's City Council candidates have been decidedly contentious and uncivil. What can you say to assure voters that, should you be elected, you will strive to demonstrate those laudable qualities while fulfilling your sworn responsibilities to residents and fellow councilmembers?

The whole reason why I’m running is to diversify our city, and by bringing diversity to the City Council, it gives us the ability to bridge the gap between our citizens and the City Council, and to form a more communicative state between those two. That’s huge in local politics. To be able to bring together people who normally wouldn’t talk is why I’m running, because it will bring a different perspective and a different point of view to our already amazing council. I’ve been endorsed by two of the current City Council members, Mark Carnevale and Ernesto Gutierrez. Former mayor Kathleen DeRosa and former mayor and police chief Stan Henry have also stood behind me. So that relationship is already there. It’s already established, and it will continue to grow when I get elected. I’m bridging the gap between past council members, or past mayors and police chiefs, to build a new generation of Cathedral City politics.

The City Council recently voted unanimously to approve an ordinance phasing out short-term vacation rentals in much of Cathedral City. Since resident supporters of vacation rentals have issued threats of legal action against the city as a result, do you think the City Council should revisit this issue in the coming year?

I think we have to let that play out. I believe that the citizens overall spoke up and (showed) what they thought was needed for our city, and the City Council did a great job of listening to their concerns. I stand 100 percent behind their process and what was agreed to.

As of this interview, Cathedral City ranks third in total COVID-19 cases out of the nine Coachella Valley cities, and fourth in deaths. Although the City Council extended its COVID-19 public-restrictions policy through the end of this year, do you think there is more that the city government should be doing in response to the health threats posed by this pandemic?

I think the city has done a great job in reacting to provide the best possible measures to help prevent this pandemic. Moving forward, I agree 100 percent with their extension of that ordinance. The only way to protect our citizens is by listening to our experts across the country, and I sincerely back what they’ve had to do.

What issue impacting Cathedral City should we have asked you about? What are your thoughts on how to address that issue?

I think that diversifying our City Council so that it represents the city as a whole is a very important issue. I’m 38 years old, and the average person’s age in Cathedral City is 38, with 1.5 children in their home. So, I am 38 years old, with three children, which puts me right in the middle of that curve. That gives me the ability to look at the city from a different perspective as to how we can improve our overall city by providing more programs to our youth, more programs to our senior citizens, and (addressing) the issue of closing the gap between the citizens and City Hall.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during this pandemic?

My favorite shelter-in-place activity has been bonding with my children. It’s been an amazing time. As a small-business owner, you get caught up in the everyday work of trying to build a better business. But with this pandemic, the best experience of this whole thing is being able to spend more quality time with my children. I think it’s important for all of us to see that one of the most important lessons of this whole thing is that sometimes it takes a pandemic to remind us of what our values should be—and taking care of our own and putting family above everything are most important.

We’ve brought back board games, and we’re having a lot of fun. It’s good-old-fashioned family fun. It got the kids away from their tablets and the internet, and it’s a special way to bond. It brought back my childhood memories, and at the same time introduced our children to them. Hopefully, in their future, they’ll be able to sit back and do the exact same thing with their kids. We’ve gotten really competitive (playing) Connect Four.

Nancy Ross, business owner

What is the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City in 2021?

I think not just in 2021, but moving forward, (the No. 1 issue facing Cathedral City is) to not allow COVID-19 to define us. We have to address the safety of the citizens. Everybody thinks that’s the No. 1 issue, and I agree wholeheartedly. We have to help our businesses that are still open to stay open, and search for all kinds of resources and grants and stimulus packages that we can to aid our struggling citizens. I think we can all agree that that is our top priority.

Along with those things, I am beginning to readily identify COVID-19 PTSD (posttraumatic stress disorder). We see people who are now afraid to go back into a restaurant, even though they’re only seating at 25 percent capacity. They’re unsure of whether or not they want to take the vaccine when it comes out. They feel unsure about where we’re headed as a nation. They’re nervous about schools reopening under any circumstances. So when I see people who feel paralyzed to move forward on issues that I knew they weren’t (intimidated by) before, I see that these aren’t just literal issues, but psychological issues as well. That probably shouldn’t be a surprise to any of us, but that’s also something we’re going to need to address, because not only have we been injured by COVID-19, and continue to be injured, but we need to make sure that it does not paralyze us moving forward. There’s just too much at stake in order to get our businesses back open, in order to get our children back to school, in order to get our government back functioning at a (productive) rate. Obviously, (since the city of Cathedral City) gets our money from sales taxes, at some point, we’re going to have to re-enter society. That will paramount to our recovery.

The Cathedral City mission statement includes these two descriptors: “valuing fairness, balance and trust” and “honoring our similarities and differences.” However, relationships between some of this year's City Council candidates have been decidedly contentious and uncivil. What can you say to assure voters that, should you be elected, you will strive to demonstrate those laudable qualities while fulfilling your sworn responsibilities to residents and fellow councilmembers?

For 30 years, I have worked in some kind of governance or another. And for those 30 years, I’ve stood for people. I spent six years as a director of the ACLU, where we did what I consider to be the most important work there is—and that is the work of the people in defending the Constitution of the United States and the Bill of Rights. I will always continue supporting those values of our country, of our state and, most importantly, of the citizens of Cathedral City.

Also, my experiences have allowed me to learn a great deal about people, about collaboration and the importance of unity. It’s something that we’ve seen a shortage of in our nation over the last several years, regardless of the (political) party you identify with. We have become a less-tolerant nation. We’re intolerant of our neighbors, our citizens and even of our friends. It is absolutely front and center that we need to become more empathetic of our friends, neighbors and citizens. I have participated in well more than 250 meetings with Cathedral City. I’ve heard the people speak, and I know what’s important to them. And I’ve watched our elected officials and how they govern. The reason I’m running for office is that, after hundreds of meetings, it was clear to me I have a voice that is different from the voices on the dais, and it will allow me to bring forward a collaborative voice that will help us move forward.

The City Council recently voted unanimously to approve an ordinance phasing out short-term vacation rentals in much of Cathedral City. Since resident supporters of vacation rentals have issued threats of legal action against the city as a result, do you think the City Council should revisit this issue in the coming year?

I do not. When we have citizens within our city who are being violated, who are being harmed and who are being treated inappropriately, we cannot cave to (those residents who state) that those people are not in the majority. I’ll give you that—they’re not the majority. But they are the ones being harmed, and how many people must be harmed before our entire city says, “No more”?

I have attended every meeting where this was discussed, including the neighborhood meetings at City Hall. I have listened to short-term vacation rental owners and supporters. I’ve been in private meetings with people positioned on both sides of the issue, and I have read significant amounts of documentation submitted by both (sides). It is extremely important to remember that (under the new ordinance), there is no limiting of short-term vacation rentals in resort areas like Desert Princess or Canyon Shores. Also, there is no limiting short-term vacation rentals in a home-share situation, which means anyone can rent out a spare room to visitors. And although I am convinced that short-term vacation rental owners don’t want to be bad neighbors and don’t want to cause trouble for the city, the very situation of random people—not personally known to the property owners or their neighbors—in unsupervised areas just brings problems that are predictable.

However, I would bring forward an idea that, so far, has been unique to me: I would suggest that short-term vacation rental owners meet with developers to look at the feasibility of building an entire HOA community that is strictly for the purpose of short-term vacation rental investment, and in an appropriate zone—not in R1 or R2 (residential zones), but in resort-style zones. That way, (people) can own the homes that they could later retire into if they want, or they can rent it out as a short-term vacation rental. And they could also share aggregate services by having onsite management, by sharing house cleaners, pool-service people and yard-service people, and (in this way) maybe even reduce their costs as opposed to (maintaining) a stand-alone home.

The city is not opposed to short-term vacation rentals. They are opposed to residential short-term vacation rentals that are much more like businesses with strangers coming and going, and no control over it.

Honestly, I’ve been approached by a signature collector (for a referendum), and they just aren’t telling the truth when they ask you to sign for the referendum, because (they say) Cathedral City has outlawed short-term vacation rentals. That’s just simply not true.

As of this interview, Cathedral City ranks third in total COVID-19 cases out of the nine Coachella Valley cities, and fourth in deaths. Although the City Council extended its COVID-19 public-restrictions policy through the end of this year, do you think there is more that the city government should be doing in response to the health threats posed by this pandemic?

I think the city has done a good job letting the citizens know what the restrictions are within Cathedral City, and encouraging all of our citizens to wear face coverings, to wash their hands and to stay socially-distanced.

But as (Cathedral City is) one of the youngest cities in the valley, with an average age of 38, our people are workers. They do not have the luxury of sheltering in place indefinitely, so they’ve had to go back to work—and with that comes a larger risk of infection. I believe they’ve all done their best to protect themselves, but going back into grocery stores, back into senior-living (facilities) or landscape work, just brings you into contact with other people who are, perhaps, not as careful as you are. It’s a societal conundrum. You have to feed your family, and you have to keep your family safe. You just balance those two the very best way that you can.

We, as a city, must encourage and support and protect our citizens in every possible way we can, and help ease those tough decisions to the best of our ability. We must continue to provide services to those facing food insecurity, (even though) so many of our pantries are not open, because they are indoor facilities. We need to reach out to people we know and help them in the ways that we can. … But at the same time, we must be understanding that people cannot just lock their doors and virtually starve to death. There’s a very difficult line that’s been drawn, and it’s one that our generation has never faced before. These are problems that are predictable, but just unfathomable. So we just can’t point fingers; we must work together to do the best that we can in our young city to get through this as quickly as possible.

What issue impacting Cathedral City should we have asked you about? What are your thoughts on how to address that issue?

It seems that all roads lead to COVID-19, and I believe the issue that needs to be addressed is food insecurity. We have had some wonderful programs brought forward like Great Plates, that allowed low-income people to utilize local restaurants for a meal. … And as I mentioned earlier, many of our pantries are not open or are not at full capacity, because many are indoor facilities that cannot function (under) social-distancing guidelines. What I believe needs to be addressed is how we can move these facilities outdoors, and how we can help all of our nonprofit organizations by seeking stimulus money, grant money and private donations to make sure that our people, who are struggling for food, have well rounded supplies available to them.

You can only take so many hits. You can lose your job, or your children can’t go to school. And even if you have a job, you can’t go to it if your children have to be educated at home or (you need) to pay for ridiculously expensive day care. And then (you may not) able to bring enough food home for your family to eat, and you’re worried about your health all at the same time. It is a mountain of rocks piled on our citizens’ backs, and we cannot solve all the problems. But food insecurity, in conjunction with health, must be the No. 1 priority. As a city, I believe that the residents, the nonprofits and the elected officials do have some (ability) to grant opportunities to facilitate a solution, or at least be the bridge to get us through these incredibly difficult times.

What has been your favorite “shelter-in-place” activity during this pandemic?

My husband, Bob, after his 22-year career in the military, became a general contractor. Throughout our marriage, he has spent his time making other people’s homes fabulous. Now, for the last six months, I’ve had nothing but opportunities for Bob and I to remodel our home. We’ve done a remodel on our guest bathroom and on our guest bedroom. We’ve installed solar in our home and a new air-conditioning system, and now we’re in the process of remodeling our master bathroom. We’re able to do these things, because I have my husband’s free labor, which makes it all manageable and doable, even during these difficult times. So it has been a delight to work together and to see happy things happen within our home, even though we know that so many tragic things are happening just outside our door.

More than 40 years ago, Coachella resident Lee Espinoza started training local youngsters in the art of boxing—while also teaching the character traits required to form the foundation of a successful career, like discipline, determination, good health practices and mental focus.

For more than 20 years, the Coachella Valley Boxing Club building, on the north edge of the park on Douma Street, has served as Espinoza’s headquarters and schoolhouse. It’s where he has supervised or hosted the training of pugilistic luminaries including former pro world champions Pancho Segura, Julio Diaz, Sandra Yard and Randy Caballero.

But this past spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic swept into the Coachella Valley, Espinoza—who is slated to be inducted into the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame—reluctantly shuttered his boxing refuge.

“The governor told us that we had to close it, and so we did close it for a while,” Espinoza said during a recent phone interview. “We’ve just barely opened it back up again, and for now, it’s only (by appointment), so you can come and train at this time, or that time. They don’t want too many people inside at once.”

While the gym was closed, the aspiring champs of today were relegated to training outdoors in the summer heat of neighboring Bagdouma Park, or in the garages and backyards of their family homes. While Espinoza wasn’t involved in this day-to-day training, he made sure the equipment from his gym was available to anyone who needed it.

Among the young fighters who are now back at the gym and training are several men and women who have won national and world amateur championships under Espinoza’s mentoring. One such decorated amateur is 20-year-old Citlalli Ortiz of Coachella.

The Independent first met Ortiz back in 2016, as she was preparing to enter the Desert Showdown boxing tournament at the Fantasy Springs Resort Casino. In the four years since then, Ortiz—who already held titles as the 2016 Junior and Youth National Champion, the 2016 Junior Olympic Champion and winner of the 2016 WBC Belt at the Beautiful Brawlers Show—added the Gold Medal at the 2017 Women’s Youth World Championships and became the 2017 USA Youth National Champion and the 2017 Mexican National Champion in her 152-pound weight class.

But 2018 brought a host of unexpected obstacles. The notoriously chaotic influence of international boxing politics entered her life and career when Team USA Boxing inexplicably decided not to include her on their team competing at the 2018 Youth Olympic games, considered a necessary stop on the road to the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo. Ortiz—who had established dual citizenship in both the United States and Mexico—went so far as to contact the International Boxing Association (AIBA) directly to ask what steps she could take to qualify for the 2018 Youth Olympics.

“They said that if Team USA let me,” Ortiz explained, “I could fight in the Continental Tournament (at 155), and if I won there, I could automatically go to the Youth Olympics. So I told Team USA what AIBA had said, but they still didn’t want to do it. I kept trying ways to convince them (to let me fight at 155 pounds in these two tournaments), but finally I told them that I wanted to go with Mexico, who keeps telling me they want me to fight for them. I told Team USA that I only had one chance to fight in these tournaments, because I’d only be 18 once.”

But Team USA had even more bad news for Ortiz. “They told me that I’d have to wait for two years before I could fight for another country.” Ortiz said. “But I said that Mexico told me that Team USA could make a deal with them if the USA would say that I wasn’t going to fight for them anymore, and sign an agreement. They told me they wouldn’t (give me permission). They said that they’d rather have me fighting for the USA then against it.”

At that point, Ortiz decided to link her fortunes to the Mexico national boxing team, and begin the two-year prohibition on her competing for Mexico internationally. But there was little competition to be found in Mexico for a woman boxer in 2018.

“That’s when I became a little inactive,” Ortiz said. “While I was waiting for those years, I started fighting a little in Mexico, and I kind of made a comeback in 2019. I ended up winning the nationals in Mexico, and I won the Olympic trials for Mexico. Then, in March of 2020, I was already on my way to Argentina to fight in the pre-Olympic trials when COVID-19 struck. I’d been living in Mexico for a few months, but when COVID happened, I just had to go home (to the U.S.). Now I’m stuck (deciding) whether to turn pro, or staying amateur and waiting for the Olympics.”

Is she ready to get back in the gym yet?

“Lee (Espinoza) told me that the gym had re-opened,” Ortiz said, “but I started working, so I couldn’t go yet. With my dad (her father, Alex Ortiz, is her manager and trainer), I’ve been training from like 6-10 a.m., and then I come home, eat and take a nap before I have to go to work. So there hasn’t been time for me to go to the gym. But I had a day off the other day, so I was able to go see Lee and find out how things are going. So now I’ll probably start training right in the boxing club, before I go to work.”

Espinoza will welcome her back to the fold, but Ortiz shouldn’t look for him at the gym come March 14, because—the pandemic permitting—he’ll be in Los Angeles enjoying the banquet and induction ceremony staged by the West Coast Boxing Hall of Fame. The banquet was originally scheduled for Oct. 4, but was delayed until March.

Espinoza will join a group of inductees that includes world-class boxers Oscar de la Hoya, Michael Nunn, Gabriel Ruelas, Rafael Ruelas, Johnny Tapia, Robert Diaz and Sue “TL” (Tiger Lilly) Fox, as well as referee Richard Steele.

“A long time ago, I got a call and they said I was going to be inducted.” Espinoza said. “Then they sent me a flier. So that’s it. Oscar (de la Hoya) is going to be there and is getting inducted, and a lot of other people I know are going to be there, too. You know, they started selling tables (for the banquet), and we sold seven tables. And they said, ‘Oh my god, Oscar de la Hoya only sold five.’”

Back in the gym, although Espinoza is happy to see his boxers reconvening, he knows the championship-caliber women boxers who are coming back to train face even more challenges.

“Right now, they don’t have anything going on,” Espinoza said. “There are no shows, no nothing. You know the ladies have nothing. But they’re all still working.”

How does Ortiz feel about her boxing future?

“You know, most of the time, I just think I should stop,” Ortiz said. “But after all I’ve been through, I keep on it—you know, I keep going. I believe that some boxers who didn’t have that mentality would say, ‘I’ll just stop,’ after all these challenges. But I don’t want to be saying to myself, ‘I was so close, and I just let it go.’ I’ve been practicing for 12 years and competing for five. So sometimes I think I just want to hang up the gloves and let it go. But, I can’t do that.”

Her hopes of competing at the Olympics have not been extinguished, either.

“With the pandemic going on, no one is sure if the Olympics will even happen next year,” Ortiz said. “And if they don’t take place for another couple of years, then I feel like I still have a chance. So it’s kind of weird that I see the pandemic, in my boxing career, as having created a chance that I can still go to an Olympics, which I always wanted to do. But in my personal life, it’s been another obstacle. All those months, I couldn’t train or work—and things start catching up to you.”

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.

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 1, incumbent and current Mayor Glenn Miller is facing challenger Erin Teran. 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 decrease violent crime in the city. What follows below are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

Glenn Miller, District 1 incumbent and current mayor; district director for State Sen. Melissa Melendez; landscape business owner

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

The No. 1 issue facing Indio now and in the coming year is how to come out of this COVID-19 pandemic with open businesses and an economic future for our community. Having a balanced budget for the city of Indio, with a healthy reserve that makes us able to continue with services, is the most vital issue facing the city in the coming years. We’re not exactly sure how the pandemic is going to affect us overall, but obviously it’s affected us with our concerts and our taxing base. But getting businesses back open, making sure that everybody’s back to work, and making sure, at the same time, that the city’s general fund is balanced and that our reserves are healthy, (will enable us to) continue to (provide) the quality of life and the services that residents expect.

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?

What we have been doing: communication—networking with our businesses, our chamber of commerce and our residents to continue to make sure that we’re following what I call the four basic guidelines: Make sure you’re masked up; make sure you’re washing your hands; deep cleaning areas where there are multiple touches; and, obviously, social distancing, especially if you’re inside. This will continue to limit the spread of COVID-19. Our residents have done a good job with this. Our city has provided PPE (personal protective equipment) to our businesses and residents. We were just recently doing this with our senior citizens (to whom) we gave care packages that contained all the essential sanitary items they need to continue to be safe, including masks. So the city needs to continue to open businesses efficiently and safely, and I think what will help us is getting our communication network out to residents and businesses. The more that we open up, and the more interaction we have, the more chance we have of spreading COVID-19. Making sure that we take personal responsibility, and at the same time making sure that our residents and businesses are following those guidelines, will limit the spread—and, particularly, as we continue with social distancing, we have to make sure that we are personally responsible about what we do.

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

What we have done is invest in our police department. We continue to bring new police officers up through our academy, and at the same time, we’ve deployed our Quality of Life Team officers throughout the city of Indio, along with any other units that are a part of the task force for Coachella Valley. We are looking for ways to interact with the community through our faith-based organizations, our businesses and our community as a whole, with outreach from our police department’s chief, Michael Washburn. We have a top-notch police department, and (top-notch) code enforcement and public safety overall, including our fire department. President Obama recognized us as one of only 15 police departments in the United States to be honored as one of the 21st century policing agencies, out of 18,000 (overall). We can do a better job, always, of communicating and looking (to see) what we can do with any kind of crime, but right now, our focus is on communication with our faith-based organizations, our businesses and the community to continue to work with them to reduce any opportunity for crime to be instigated here in the city of Indio. And, we’re working with other regional agencies to stop any crimes, if we’re able to, before they even occur. So, we have a great support unit with the local agencies, and that’s going to be the key to allowing us to provide more services and better public safety for our residents and businesses. We’re always here to support our police officers, and we’re in the middle of investing in more officers, having just hired six brand-new recruits, and we have four more in the pipeline who are working their way through the academy. That’s being paid for by the city of Indio, so that we make sure that they are able to study and go through the academy when they weren’t (otherwise) financially able to because they had to work at another job. So we’ve already invested in another 10 police officers.

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?

Right now, we feel we have a balanced budget for the next two years, drawing either from our reserves, or our Measure X funding (a sales tax increase approved by voters in 2016), or from our revenue sources coming in. When I first got on City Council, we had a negative balance in our reserve fund. This is exactly what our reserve fund is for—to make sure that whenever we had any kind of uncertainty in our revenue sources and streams coming into the city, that we are able to utilize our reserve fund to make sure that services wouldn’t be cut.

I talked to the city manager, and his estimates on revenue coming in are a little higher. There’s quite a bit of sales tax (revenue) coming in, and our Auto Mall dealerships, which are our biggest source of revenue, are doing very well. So we’re going to get an update at our next meeting on Oct. 7 on exactly where we are, and where we’ll end up being. But in the last year or two, one of the great things that Indio has done is really push our economic development. We do it every year, but we actually doubled down with two new car dealerships coming in, and we also have a 37,000-square-foot Vallarta supermarket and a lot of other businesses opening. And we’re working with all of our existing businesses to get them open as well.

So, our revenue streams are a little better than we anticipated. If this pandemic continues, then we might have to make an adjustment, but we’ll do it wisely, and we’ll figure out where we can find savings now, and take it from the best opportunity that we have. But we won’t cut into any services or any protection that we have for our residents, to make sure that our quality of life stays like it is. We’re very confident we can do that.

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

I think the one thing you should have asked about is what else we’re doing to make our city’s quality of life better. It’s about working with our residents and our businesses to make sure that the quality of life in Indio is what they expect it to be. Over the last 12 years, that I’ve been on the council, we’ve worked very hard to continue to better the city with the new schools that we’ve brought in. Every one of our high schools is either brand new or has been rebuilt in the last 10 years. We have the new College of the Desert campus that is going to be expanded, and it was going ahead until COVID-19. Multiple businesses have come in, expanding economic opportunities. Obviously, the concerts which were cancelled this year, unfortunately, but we’re bringing in opportunities—not only to our downtown area and our new mall that’s going to be redeveloped, where the Indio Grand Marketplace is, but we now have every major homebuilder (working) in our city. So, the city of Indio is poised not only to be the City of Festivals, but also the City of Opportunity. We have a bright future in the city of Indio, and we’re looking forward to many years of efforts supported by the City Council and our residents, to make it the city that we all want it to be. We can always get better, but I can tell you that from talking to the residents on a continued basis, they are excited about where our future is going, from education up to business opportunities.

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

That’s tough. I’ve been dialing up our seniors and other individuals, just to have a chat and conversation to see how they are. The conversations that I’ve had with people, who I would never have met before or talked to before, have given people an opportunity to get off their devices and get on the phone, because they actually want to hear your voice. So it’s been a great opportunity to connect with some people who I probably would have never had the chance to.

Erin Teran, registered nurse

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

In 2021, I definitely think that unity is going to be very important. We’ve gone through some very difficult times, not only with this pandemic, but we’re seeing much of our country be so split and divided. So I think it’s going to be so important to take a stand in our own communities and be a voice of leadership to try to bring people together, to check on your neighbors and to take care of one another. As human beings, we’re all experiencing many of the same things. We have the same fears right now. We have this fear of getting sick, or getting our family members sick. The stress of having to go to work, and then not knowing if you might bring (the virus) home to your family, is so difficult for people. So many families are trying to do the new distance learning, and it’s so challenging. But I found that if we really work together, we can get through this and overcome it, and make things easier for each other.

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?

Well, we do know that the city of Indio has the largest population and the largest workforce (of any valley city), and quite frankly, we have the essential workers living on the east end of the valley. So, I think that, No. 1, we need to be out in front of this, and speaking about it daily. We should be talking about things we can do to keep our residents safe, and keep our employees safe. I’ve talked to so many different people who either haven’t had the PPE that they need, or they haven’t had the training (in how to use it properly). The city’s done an excellent job in getting the PPE out there to the businesses, but I think we could be doing more. I’d really like to utilize some of the committees that we have currently, in order to see if we can designate a group of volunteers—either furloughed or retired health-care workers—who want to volunteer their time to go out there and train some of (the workers at) these businesses. I’ve walked into so many stores where people were wearing their mask beneath their nose. Sometimes it just takes a little bit of education on how to use a mask correctly, and why we need to wear it a certain way, and take it off a certain way.

I think that we need to have real strong leadership, and not wait to see what other cities are doing. In the beginning of the pandemic, Indio took two weeks to put that mask ordinance in place. I think that when it comes to a pandemic, two weeks is really a lifetime. We need to be on top of that. We’re starting to see that we’re moving up into a new tier (of reduced state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions), so our main focus should be keeping everyone safe, and keeping our businesses open. We see so many businesses, especially small businesses, that are struggling right now, and we need to provide resources to those business owners. We could be meeting with them intermittently to see what challenges they’re facing, and to see how we can resolve those issues.

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

I definitely think that many people are struggling. I know we’re talking about 2019 numbers, but again, we’re looking at the (valley’s) most populated city. So when you have people who are struggling and may not be receiving the resources that they need, or even understanding that there are resources available (for them), there may be some desperate measures that are taken. Also, I think we’ve seen nationwide this divide between law enforcement and communities. So this year, we formed a group called We Are Indio, and we held a vigil. The purpose of the vigil was to focus on prevention. Not only does that relate to any kind of police brutality, but it also relates to crime and other things happening in our communities. So when you’re able to provide social resources, and you’re able to bring the community together and form better relationships with public-safety officers, I think we will see a drop in those numbers. Chief Washburn has been very committed to working with us to form that bond with the community, and I’m really excited about that. Having these difficult conversations is not always a comfortable thing to do. For instance, when we were planning our vigil, I had officers call, and one was someone I went to school with (in Indio). He had some concerns, but when I was able to explain to him that our purpose and intent was to make things better for everyone, then he seemed to understand, and it calmed some of his nervousness. Obviously, we want to make sure that the officers are safe, but we want to make sure that we’re preventing any future issues, too.

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?

I was able to sit down with Mark Scott, our interim city manager, and he said we’re looking pretty good to get through the rest of this year. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next year. My understanding is that the festivals are planning to move forward next year, but it’s hard to say for sure. I always advocate that city reserves need to be utilized before we make any cuts that would affect any of our employees, because that’s their livelihood. I think it’s important to protect jobs. But we’re seeing so much growth in Indio that even through this pandemic, we’re building in Indio. I think we’ll be able to get through this by working together, but it will be very important for us to advocate strongly for additional funding. I looked at the numbers recently, and I think it was over 2,100 cities nationwide are facing budget shortfalls. So I think it’s time we start advocating to state and federal officials to bring more funds into our community.

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

One of the reasons why it was really important to me to run is that I’m a lifelong resident of Indio. I went to school here from kindergarten through 12th grade. My heart really is in Indio. I have a real passion, not only for what our city was, but for what it’s going to be, because I plan to live the rest of my life here. We’ve made a lot of changes, and obviously, we’ve had a lot of growth since I was a little girl. I just turned 40, and over the last 40 years, we’ve seen a lot of growth and change, but there are so many areas that have been left behind. So I feel a great connection to my community, but running for City Council has given me even more opportunities to speak with different community members and to understand the struggles that they face. For instance, I spoke with Pastor (Carl) McPeters recently. He has a church over in the John Nobles Ranch area, and for the Black community, it’s a very historic area. He was able to share how being displaced from that area (due) to expansion of the Indio mall affected his churchgoers. So I think it’s so important that we make sure our representatives are there to lead everyone, and to give equal access to all resources to every Indio resident.

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

Well, as a nurse, I didn’t have that much of an opportunity to shelter in place, because I was actually taking care of COVID-19 patients. But for me, it’s really been finding the silver linings in everything—and it’s really not one thing that I can say. Obviously, my daughter is disappointed that she has to be home from college, doing distance learning instead of living in her dorm, but the silver lining has been that I’ve had more time to spend with her. And while running this campaign, it’s been more challenging to actually meet with people. But the silver lining there is that when I got sick (with COVID-19), I was able to meet with people virtually, and I didn’t have to run all over town. So, I’d say it’s been finding the silver lining in so many things.

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