CVIndependent

Sat12052020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

Palm Springs residents in two of the city’s five newly created districts will select representatives in this November’s election—meaning the city will finally turn the page on its transition away from at-large elections, as mandated by the California Voting Rights Act of 2001.

In District 5, nobody filed to run against incumbent Lisa Middleton, meaning she will return to the City Council, barring any upstart write-in candidacy.

In the District 4 race, incumbent Christy Holstege is facing two challengers: Dian Torres, a local health care worker; and certified public accountant—and former Palm Springs City Councilmember—Mike McCulloch.

The Independent recently spoke to the three candidates running for the District 4 seat. We asked each of them the same set of questions, ranging from what future city budget cuts could await residents, to the health of the city’s relationships with small businesses. What follows below are their complete responses, edited only for style and clarity.

Christy Holstege

Attorney, Palm Springs City Council incumbent

What is the most important single issue facing the city of Palm Springs in 2021?

The most important issue facing the city in 2021 is facing the global pandemic and keeping our residents safe, as well as ensuring our recovery from both the health crisis and the economic crisis that we’re facing as a city and as a community. We’ve been working for almost the last seven months on both these fronts, and I’m proud that we were the first city in Southern California to issue a shelter-in-place order. We did that before the state of California did, and that’s because our residents in Palm Springs are particularly at risk for COVID-19. I’ve worked on leading the task force for reopening and ensuring that we do that safely. I’ve worked directly with local businesses to ensure that they can keep their workers safe, keep their customers safe, and stay open, if possible. So we’ve worked to expand their footprint into parklets, parking lots and areas outside. We’ve closed a portion of Palm Canyon (Drive) to have a pedestrian experience so there can be more social distancing, and so that businesses can move outside.

Moving into 2021, we need to make sure that our residents stay safe and stay healthy. When a vaccine is released, we need to work in partnership with the county to make sure that our residents can get tested, get access to good medical care, and get access to the vaccine. We need to work to rebuild our economy after the hit that the economic crisis has caused.

Given the economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it’s possible the city may need to make further budget cuts in the future. If that became necessary, what cuts would you propose?

We’ve all been personally affected by the economic crisis, and the city is no different. Initially, we had projected over a $75 million deficit over the last fiscal year and this upcoming fiscal year. However, it’s very difficult to make projections during this time, and actually our (city income) numbers are much, much higher than we initially expected as our worst case scenario. We’ve worked really hard to build our reserves and have almost doubled them over the last few years to where we had over $40 million sitting in reserves for a rainy day like this. So I’m proud of the work that we’ve done in responding to this immediate economic crisis, while still retaining key services for our residents. We’ve retained city staff who provide services directly to residents, like parks and recreation services, public safety and all of the services that are important to our residents.

Looking forward, we’ve moved to a “rolling budget” model, since it really is impossible to predict a year out at this time, because no one knows what the economic situation will be a year from now. So I asked, and we successfully moved to a “rolling budget” model where the council will get an update each month at council meetings for the public. That way, we can assess where we are in terms of revenue and spending, and make quick changes if we need to. So my hope is that, in that way, we can plan accurately. If we do need to make further cuts, we’ll know that ahead of time, and we won’t need to do it in one sitting, in a way that might not be accurate six months from now.

So, regarding what we’d need to consider cutting, we’ve already made a lot of creative solutions instead of cutting staff. We issued an early retirement program to have city staff retire if they were able to. We froze positions instead of laying off people, and we actually moved to different models of providing services that have saved the city money. In the future, if we do have to make additional cuts, we will have to look at staffing levels for the city, but ensuring that we protect and preserve the most important services for our residents.

Some small businesses in town have complaints about uneven, unfair and harsh code enforcement. Are those complaints valid? Do you think the city is friendly to small business?

Serving on City Council for the last three years, I’ve worked really hard to make sure that the city is business-friendly, and that everyone knows that in Palm Springs, we are open for business. I have served o, and led our city’s subcommittee on economic development and business retention. We brought forward new business incentives like a façade-improvement program so that businesses can invest in the façades of their buildings to attract more customers. Also, we brought forward and successfully passed an incentive program for small hotels, so that small local boutique hotels could benefit from business incentives and invest in rehabilitating their properties. And we worked successfully to get consumer data directly to local businesses and startups to help them attract customers. So I’m really proud of my record of supporting local businesses. My husband’s family has owned two small local businesses here in Palm Springs for multiple generations. Some are on their third generation. That’s a key issue for my campaign, and also for my service as a City Council member.

So we work hard to support all of our local businesses, and as a council member for District 4—which has a different business district than just our city’s downtown—I have heard both residents and business owners say that we focus too much on just the downtown and that we need to invest (in) and encourage businesses and economic development throughout the city. In District 4, we have the Smoke Tree (area) and the whole corridor down Highway 111, and those are important businesses to support. We have vacant buildings throughout the district as well as through the city that need economic development.

In terms of code enforcement, we’ve really stepped up our code enforcement at the request of residents, because people were going downtown or into local businesses (while) not wearing masks. We’ve enforced social distancing. We passed a lot of legislation to make that required in the city of Palm Springs, and to support businesses so that they didn’t have to do the enforcement. Right now, code enforcement is going out to local businesses about 100 times a week or so. They’re not finding that many violations. Overall, people are really being compliant. So I think we’ve done a good job on code enforcement, but we can always do better, and we can always make sure that it addresses all businesses equally.

Palm Springs is considered a favorite getaway spot for more than 1.5 million tourists each normal year. However, should the city be backing a visitor-outreach effort right now, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19?

Palm Springs is a unique city, because we are so heavily reliant on tourism. I’ve participated in regional, statewide and national efforts around COVID-19 and the impacts to the city budget, and I have yet to find a city more impacted than ours, because we are so reliant on tourism. Since we issued the shelter-in-place order back in March, we’ve worked really hard to ensure that Palm Springs residents stayed safe, and that we didn’t have an influx of tourists who might be bringing the virus with them. Initially, the numbers that were reported showed that Palm Springs had higher numbers (of infections) than other Coachella Valley cities. At one point, in the first few days (of the pandemic), we had a third of the deaths in the state of California. So we worked really hard to issue a shelter-in-place order, and make sure we were on the forefront of keeping our residents safe and our businesses safe. And (we did that) because our economy can only thrive if we defeat this pandemic and if we keep our residents, businesses and workers safe. So we’ve been doing that really hard work of balancing our community’s health with all of the other impacts like loss of income, evictions, mental-health impacts and all the effects that we’re seeing. Also I led the reopening task force with the mayor (Geoff Kors), and we’ve also participated in a regional effort on tourism. We’re not initiating that right now, but we’re planning for when it will be safe to reopen tourism, and how we can do that safely and in a coordinated way.

We have to work regionally, because if Palm Springs does one thing, and Cathedral City or the county is doing something different, it is not effective from a public-health standpoint. So we’ve been working with other cities and the county directly to balance the needs for the economy with the public health. As of right now, our efforts have not been to attract a lot of tourists during this time, and we still have a lot of businesses closed. Riverside County is on the (state’s) watch list and in the worst possible category for the virus right now. So I think our plan is to reopen when we can safely, but also recognize that tourism is the lifeblood of our economy, as well as of our local businesses that support tourism.

One issue in my platform is diversifying our economy and making sure that we aren’t so reliant on tourism, so that in downfalls like this or others, we do have diverse revenue streams and businesses that are operating and aren’t completely shuttered by a stall in tourism.

Is there a topic or issue we should have asked you about?

One issue that I hear residents talk about again and again is homelessness and housing. When I first ran for City Council in 2017, that was the No. 1 issue for our voters. I’ve worked hard over the past three years to prioritize that issue and achieve real results. So in the last few years, we have spearheaded a new innovative program on homelessness for the city of Palm Springs. We found outside funding from the Desert Healthcare District to fund employment services for people who are homeless. We’ve funded crisis-response teams within our police department, so that behavioral-health workers are going out with our police to provide services to (homeless) people they encounter. Also, we’ve obtained $10 million from the state of California to address homelessness, specifically in Palm Springs. I’m really proud of our work on that with Assemblymember Chad Mayes. We went to Sacramento and talked to our representatives about how important homelessness is to our residents, and how much it impacts a small city like ours. Typically, only the 13 largest cities in our state get a direct allocation for homelessness, but because of our work, we were able to be the only small city in the state of California to get that direct allocation. Now we’re working in partnership with the county to turn that $10 million into tens of millions of dollars’ worth of investment to build housing. The solution to homelessness is building enough housing for all of our residents, and making sure that housing is affordable and attainable for everyone. So I care most about the homelessness issue, and questions about what the city had been doing. Right now, we’re working on a motel conversion by purchasing a property in order to convert a blighted hotel into permanent housing with services.

Currently, I chair the Coachella Valley Association of Governments’ regional committee on homelessness, since homelessness is a regional issue, not just a city issue, and I’m proud to work in partnership with all of our cities to make sure that we do have services in the west valley, and that we work as a region to truly solve homelessness once and for all.

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

My favorite shelter-in-place activity has been growing a baby. I’m eight months pregnant right now, and we’ll be having our first baby this fall. So we’re very excited. My husband is a third-generation Palm Springs resident, and actually he’s the third generation of his family to live in our house in Sonora Sunrise. So our son will be a fourth-generation resident, born at Desert Regional (Medical center), just like his dad, and he’ll be the fourth generation of our family to live in this home here, which is great Palm Springs history. It’s cool to have those roots here in Palm Springs. That’s primarily what I’ve been doing outside of serving on City Council, and running my re-election campaign.


Mike McCulloch

Certified public accountant

What is the most important single issue facing the city of Palm Springs in 2021?

The city is facing a $75 million budget deficit. In last year’s budget, the council transferred into the general fund from other funds, about $14 million. That money will not be available again this year, so it’s going to be even more difficult going forward to try to get a balanced budget. That’s the No. 1 issue, and what I bring to the table that I think is lacking with the current council members is that I’m a CPA with an economics degree from UCLA, a master’s in business administration from UCLA, and I’m a certified public accountant who’s been practicing in Palm Springs since 1987. That’s over 30 years that I’ve been a small-business owner in Palm Springs. With that background and experience, I’m an expert in financial matters, and I can bring that to the City Council, where it’s desperately needed.

Given the economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it's possible the city may need to make further budget cuts in the future. If that became necessary, what cuts would you propose?

Well, I think one of the things that we have to do is prioritize our spending. I’m a big supporter of public safety—the police and fire departments. Those (areas) need to be prioritized. Recently, one of the things the council did that I disagree with is that they spent $3 million to finish off the park downtown. While we all want to have the park built out according to its original design, now is not the time to make that expenditure. We currently have over a dozen unfilled police and fire department spots, where we had police and fire fighters before, and do not have them now. I would have spent that $3 million to keep the police and fire departments fully staffed, so that we will have someone to respond in an emergency.

We’re in the COVID-19 crisis, and in any crisis, there’s opportunity. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the Winchester House, but that’s a house where the Winchester heir kept on adding rooms, because she thought it would keep the spirits away. So she ended up with this house having doorways that lead to nowhere, and stairwells where you step right off into space. I think that because the city government has been cobbled together over decades, it’s not as efficient as it could be. So I think we can start from the ground up to rebuild a modern City Hall, with a vision for 2020 and forward, where we can have much more efficiency, and remove redundancies in there which will save us money. We can re-think the entire structure of the city and create an efficient model that can operate with fewer personnel. I’m not talking about the physical plant—which I guess is a nightmare due to a lack of money for maintenance, which is kind of a problem for the people working there—but I’m talking about the whole city organization, and I think there are a lot of things that can be done to operate more efficiently within a budget. It’s not necessarily about cutting things, but I’m looking for a more efficient city government. We don’t have to fire people, because they’re already furloughed, or they’re going to leave by attribution. So we can re-organize (our operations) in a more efficient manner that will save us money.

Some small businesses in town have complaints about uneven, unfair and harsh code enforcement. Are those complaints valid? Do you think the city is friendly to small business?

I think the city is friendly to small business. I am not aware that there is uneven treatment, but no one on that council has any experience in running a business, as far as I can tell from looking at their resumes. I think that the $5,000 fine levied against the La Bonita’s restaurant recently was draconian. In fact, it’s a death penalty. Essentially, a struggling business downtown is still going to have to pay their rent, and still have to pay the incumbent charges and costs including their city license fees, so I would have looked for a way to scale back that $5,000 fine. For a struggling restaurateur downtown or uptown, that $5,000 fine is a death penalty. I don’t know how you survive that.

Palm Springs is considered a favorite getaway spot for more than 1.5 million tourists each normal year. However, should the city be backing a visitor-outreach effort right now, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19? 

I think we want to continue to attract tourism here, and part of that is an outreach. The expenditures are an investment in generating transit occupancy tax, or TOT, which the city is dependent upon. I think we can trust the businesses, the restaurants and the hoteliers to make sure that they have the proper COVID-19 procedures and policies in place, so that we can safely reopen our city to tourists. And, once again, it’s an opportunity, because people have been homebound for months now. They need to get out, and they need to get a little bit of a break. I think Palm Springs is a close destination to millions and millions of people in Southern California, and we should do everything we can to safely reopen. And I think it can be done.

Is there a topic or issue we should have asked you about?

We’ve got a real problem in Palm Springs with homelessness. It appears to me that Palm Springs and Indio seem to bear the burden of resolving the homeless issue. For instance, Riverside County had five locations chosen to spend money from the state to convert hotels into permanent housing for the homeless. One was in downtown Riverside, and three of the hotels were in Palm Springs. Now, we’re talking about (a program for) all of Riverside County. There needs to be a valley-wide solution to the homelessness issue. And with the hotel being proposed to be converted into permanent housing, there’s no guarantee that it will house people who currently are homeless in Palm Springs. The county can bus in homeless people from anywhere in Riverside County to live in this converted hotel. So we need to look at a valley-wide, regional solution to the homelessness issue.

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

I dusted off my guitar, which I’ve been playing off and on—mostly off—since I was 12 years old. And I’m taking guitar lessons on Zoom. Hopefully I’ll be able to get back to (performing at) the open-mics, that I enjoyed singing and playing at before COVID shut everything down, with an improved level of guitar-playing skills.


Dian Torres

Health care worker

What is the most important single issue facing the city of Palm Springs in 2021?

I have to say it is more than just one. I have two: housing and the budget. Given where we are right now, especially with the COVID-19 pandemic that’s happening, it is very important that we take care of our community, as a lot of people are being displaced. In my opinion, this is really very important, because it’s the community here that really holds us up. I mean, we get tourism and all of that, but we can’t forget about the people who live here and make up this community.

Given the economic uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, it's possible the city may need to make further budget cuts in the future. If that became necessary, what cuts would you propose?

This is going to be a pretty hard one, and not very well received or liked, but I’m going to say it anyway, because I’m a straight shooter: First off, I would ask the city leaders who are making an incredible amount of money—their salary is over $200,000—to take a pay cut. I think it would be a due diligence to the community to know that these people are in, and that they care about community. In the interim, it can be for a (specific) timeframe, but I think that until we can get settled, it makes absolutely no sense that these people are getting paid what they’re getting paid while other people are suffering. The inequities are just not right.

That should be first and foremost, because I think that by doing that, it would really mend a lot of what has happened in the community since 2014. That’s the elephant in the room. I believe that people are still very wounded by the deceit that went on, and I think that it has been really glossed over. And there’s leadership that’s still in (their positions) and being paid who were here when this whole thing came out. It’s beyond me how that could have been happening, and no one saw it. It took an outsider coming in to really recognize it. I mean, come on. Let’s have a little integrity. This is something that happened to our community. For leadership to not take responsibility and then continue to ask the people to sacrifice, it’s no wonder that we are in the dire straits that we’re in. Where and how do people feel really safe, and trust again? What is leadership really doing to indicate that they are, in fact, for the people and the community?

I’m not a politician. I’m just a citizen. I’ve never run for political office. I’ve only ever volunteered, and I’ve been on the periphery. I always did kind of the work that no one else wanted to do. I live here now full-time. Prior to this point in time, I’ve never really been able to (run for office) due to work, and then moving, but now that I’m here, I’m invested in our community. I hope to be the change that this city needs in leadership.

Some small businesses in town have complaints about uneven, unfair and harsh code enforcement. Are those complaints valid? Do you think the city is friendly to small business?

I saw an article this morning (about La Bonita’s restaurant being fined $5,000 for allowing customers to dine inside), but to be honest, I haven’t been able to read it yet. My understanding is that they got fined because they went inside. So, what would make somebody feel that they would have to break the rules, other than not feeling supported on some level? So there’s obviously some contention.

I went online and took a look at the codes, compliance complaints and so forth. Most of the compliance penalties were on vacation rentals. They showed inspections on restaurants, but there very few actual penalties or fines. So, honestly, I am not aware of what the inequities (in local code enforcement) are, other than whether every business is being treated the same. To me, it seems there’s partiality and a lack of consistency across the board that’s creating division among business owners, some of whom feel (they’re) treated unfairly.

We need a task force of code-compliance people. I think we could get volunteers and do a training. And I think if (code-enforcement personnel) had more visibility, then these businesses would really feel that they’re being protected, and it could make a big difference in enforcing COVID-19 regulations. People coming in from out of town leave their mess here, and we have to pick it up. That’s wrong. It’s just not the way it should be. From that perspective, I agree that (our businesses) need to have better support.

Palm Springs is considered a favorite getaway spot for more than 1.5 million tourists each normal year. However, should the city be backing a visitor-outreach effort right now, given the ongoing threat of COVID-19?

My immediate reaction is that we need to create a stronger infrastructure before we reopen. And again, it’s about having a task force in place for fines for people who may not be complying (with restrictions). Now that we have the color code (ratings for county COVID-19 statistics) that the state has issued, it’s very clear what we need to do. It’s a question of how, in fact, we are implementing. Fines are great, but who is enforcing these guidelines? Who is out there in community making sure that people are following the rules? To create this task force, let’s say that one person in each business for every shift has the opportunity to enforce (guidelines) as a representative of this code-compliance group. There’s a way to create this task force collectively, so that when (visitors) come in, they will visually see it. But I’m of the mindset that, until we are able to get our numbers down, we have absolutely no business bringing people in to infect the people here in our community if they’re being irresponsible. So it’s kind of like a domino effect. If we don’t have the infrastructure in place, and we’re not reinforcing it, then we’re just perpetuating the madness.

Is there a topic or issue we should have asked you about?

Not really. I think that due to the COVID-19 pandemic that’s happening, for our health and safety, we need to get an infrastructure in place. We need to bring our numbers down. This is the biggest and most important issue right now. Our numbers are not going down. I’ve been watching them in the newspaper, and it’s frightening. And it’s like, ‘Why?’ I mean, the writing is on the wall. We’re not doing enough. We’re not doing the right things. And if, in fact, there’s a larger entity of people from the CDC, the health industry, people who have worked in other cities, and given the technology, we should be able to create a plan. Why don’t we have an active plan? Again, we have fines, but there’s nothing posted on a weekly basis when these (infection-rate) numbers come out, other than in the newspapers. But they’re not (displayed) on billboards downtown. They’re not visible, so people don’t get that we are serious. They should be visible in our main downtown areas where people are traveling, so that they can be seen. And there should be notices. I mean, the notices about putting the masks on are fine, but if we’re not enforcing it, then thank you for sharing. And again, what numbers and statistics do we have to back up that even when these numbers come down, that we’ll be able to bring more people in safely? We want visitors to be able to buy into this (pandemic-prevention effort), and not be the place where, “We can go there because they’re not going to harass us.”

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

Well there are a couple. It’s been happening for so long that I’ve been reading a fair amount, and I got my sewing machine back out, and I’ve been making masks. And I am learning to play the keyboard. It’s just a little outlet. During all of this, I ordered an electric keyboard online, and I got it. I’ve never played, but I love singing and music, and I thought this will be a great therapeutic means for me.

Published in Politics

We here at the Independent debated postponing our annual Best of Coachella Valley readers’ poll this year.

Why? For one thing, the city magazine and the daily already do readers’ polls—and the timing of the daily’s poll overlaps with ours, which confuses the heck out of everyone.

For another thing … as you know, we’re in the middle of a raging pandemic, which has curtailed or shuttered many of the businesses and organizations that are featured in our poll.

However, upon further reflection, we decided not to postpone our poll … so here we go! First-round (nomination) voting will be open through Monday, Sept. 14. Go here to access the ballot, where you will fill in the blank in each category. (In other words, we have no pre-determined list of candidates.)

Why did we decide to press forward? Well, for one thing—and I say this with all due respect to the winners and everyone else otherwise involved—those other readers’ polls are kind of terrible.

For our Best of Coachella Valley poll, we ask each reader to vote only once per round, because our goal is to come up with a slate of truly excellent finalists and winners. The other polls have no such prohibition, because the goal of those polls is not to get a great slate of finalists and winners—the goal is for the publications to get as much web traffic as possible from readers visiting their websites over and over again to vote.

The other reason why we pressed forward: There’s never been a more important time to shine a light on the valley’s best businesses, individuals and organizations, because so many of us are struggling right now.

The top vote-getters in the first round of voting will advance to the final round, which will take place at CVIndependent.com starting Monday, Sept. 28. The Best of Coachella Valley results will be announced at CVIndependent.com on Monday, Nov. 23, and in our special December print edition.

Thanks in advance to all of you wonderful readers who take the time to vote!

Today’s news—and, boy oh boy, is there a lot of it:

Sigh. Here’s a lede from an NBC News story: “A Black man was shot in the back multiple times by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Sunday, a bystander's video showed, prompting community protests and widespread anger.” Thank god this time the victim lived: Jacob Blake, 29, is in serious but stable condition. Here’s what happened, according to Blake’s attorney: “Blake was helping to deescalate a domestic incident when police drew their weapons and tasered him. As he was walking away to check on his children, police fired their weapons several times into his back at point blank range. Blake’s three sons were only a few feet away and witnessed police shoot their father.”

This is why it’s not a good idea to have large gatherings of people, especially indoors, right now: “The number of COVID-19 cases connected to a wedding reception in Millinocket (Maine) continues to climb, with state health officials saying on Saturday that they could trace 53 confirmed cases of coronavirus to the reception. That’s up from 32 confirmed cases on Friday.”

• If you’ve ever doubted whether an absence of competent federal leadership can truly affect issues at the local level, this story will erase those dounts rather quickly: The Associated Press reports that distance-learning efforts are being hampered by a laptop shortage. Key quote: “The world’s three biggest computer companies, Lenovo, HP and Dell, have told school districts they have a shortage of nearly 5 million laptops, in some cases exacerbated by Trump administration sanctions on Chinese suppliers, according to interviews with over two dozen U.S. schools, districts in 15 states, suppliers, computer companies and industry analysts.”

• We’re only three stories in, and I need a drink. Or three. So here’s the Independent’s most recent cocktail column, in which Kevin Carlow offers guidance on how to make all the basic drinks. Cheers.

• Aaaand now back to the news, and this horrifying Business Insider headline: “Rats reported feeding on packages of rotted fruit and meat as postmaster general’s cutbacks unleash chaos at California's mail centers.” Sigh. And Ew.

• More bad news: It’s now been proven that a person can indeed get COVID-19 more than once. MedPage Today offers the damning details. But, no panicking! Key quote: “‘My hope is that while reinfection has been documented, it is a rare or uncommon occurrence,’ Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, of Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, who was not involved in the research, told MedPage Today. ‘So far that seems to be the case, but we're still only a few months into this pandemic.’”

CBS News-YouGov just did a poll asking people about the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. … and sit down for this one: “57 percent of Republican respondents said the U.S. death toll for COVID-19 was ‘acceptable,’ while 43 percent said it was ‘unacceptable.’ Republicans were the only partisan group of which a majority of voters said the number of deaths was acceptable. Among Democrats, 10 percent said the coronavirus death toll in the U.S. was acceptable, while 90 percent said it was unacceptable. For independents, 33 percent labeled the death toll as acceptable, and 67 percent called it unacceptable.” For the record, that U.S. death toll is currently approaching 180,000.

The FDA on Sunday, after pressure and criticism from the president, decided to authorize the emergency use of convalescent plasma in COVID-19 patients. The move has been criticized by many experts—including those from the WHO, Reuters reports.

• OK, here’s some actual good news: California has been approved for the extra $300 in weekly unemployment funds. BUT it’s going to take several weeks to actually start happening, and there are all sorts of exclusions. Bleh. The San Jose Mercury News explains.

• More good news: It appears the number of coronavirus infections nationwide is decreasing—and, according to The New York Times, experts say that’s because various restrictions, like mask ordinances, are having an effect.

The New York attorney general is looking into possible corruption in the Trump Organization. Key quote: “The attorney general’s office said it began investigating after Trump’s former lawyer and ‘fixer,’ Michael Cohen, told Congress in February 2019 that Trump had used these statements to inflate his net worth to lenders. The filing said that Eric Trump had been scheduled to be interviewed in the investigation in late July, but abruptly canceled that interview. The filing says that Eric Trump is now refusing to be interviewed, with Eric Trump’s lawyers saying, ‘We cannot allow the requested interview to go forward … pursuant to those rights afforded to every individual under the Constitution.’” Hmm.

Two political science professors, writing for The Conversation, examine a negative aspect to mail-in voting you may not have thought of: secrecy, or a lack thereof. Key quote: “Mail-in voting still requires an official ballot, and can still be validated and counted anonymously. That eliminates what’s commonly known as voter fraud—where someone casts a ballot on behalf of someone else. But it doesn’t address outside forces influencing the authentic voter at the moment they make their decision. The voter marks the ballot outside the supervision of election monitors – often at home. It’s possible to do so in secret. But secrecy is no longer guaranteed, and for some it may actually be impossible.”

The weather is finally giving overwhelmed and tired firefighters a break in Northern California. But dry and dangerous conditions remain.

Another county has been removed from the state’s COVID-19 watch list, meaning some businesses and schools may begin to reopen soon there. Congratulations to … (checks notes) … Orange County!?

• OK, this is genuinely a very cool thing, because it shows the technology exists, and could be more widespread soon: The San Francisco International Airport has set up rapid COVID-19 testing for employees and flight crews (but not, as of yet, passengers). Key quote: “Technicians use an Abbott Labs device, about the size of a toaster oven, to analyze samples obtained using a nasal swab. Abbott Labs said the device ‘amplifies the RNA hundreds of millions of times to make the virus detectable—returning test results in 13 minutes or less.’

• The city of Palm Springs will soon be closing down part of Palm Canyon Drive to allow restaurants to expand. “The pilot program, which is expected to kick off within the next two weeks, would allow for a full closure of Palm Canyon Drive between Baristo Road and Tahquitz Canyon Way,” says the news release.

• Also Palm Springs downtown-related, from the Independent: The PS City Council agreed to cut $3 million in funding from the under-construction downtown park when it passed the new budget several months ago. However, on Aug. 6, in a 3-2 vote, full funding for the park was restored—a move that infuriated many within the local business community. Kevin Fitzgerald talks to the City Council and breaks it all down.

• This damn pandemic has claimed another local restaurant: Zobo and Meester’s announced today it will close for good on Sept. 9.

• Alt-country great Justin Townes Earle died last week at his Nashville home, at the age of 38. You can read his New York Times obituary here. He appeared at Stagecoach several times, and spoke to the Independent in advance of the 2017 festival. “Nobody should ever expect me to make the same record twice, or (for the records to) even to be in line with each other,” he said. “I’m a whimsical motherfucker.” RIP, Justin.

• We’re now entering the “Let’s Get Weird!” section: Jerry Falwell Jr. resigned from Liberty University today after the news broke that his wife—with Falwell’s knowledge and occasional from-a-distance participation—apparently had a long affair with a younger man who was a “pool attendant” when they met. From NPR: “Falwell's departure comes on the heels of an investigation by Reuters on Monday in which Falwell's former business partner, Giancarlo Granda, claimed he had a multiyear sexual relationship with Falwell's wife, Becki, which involved Falwell looking on while the pair engaged in sex acts.

Or maybe he isn’t resigning. Hmm.

KFC has temporarily dropped its “finger lickin’ good” slogan, because, you know, WE CAN’T LICK OURSELVES ANYMORE BECAUSE OF COVID. Wait. That’s not exactly what I meant … oh, never mind.

That’s a LOT of news for today. Be safe. Be careful. Be happy. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, to help us keep doing quality local journalism. The Digest will return Wednesday.

Published in Daily Digest

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A little background: I started the Daily Digest when the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic hit full force (on March 13, to be exact). The goal was for it to be sent each weekday, offering up vetted, reliable links to news about the pandemic. The response was overwhelmingly positive (and I thank you for that).

In late May, following the death of George Floyd, the Daily Digest also started including links relevant to the Black Lives Matter protests. Today, the digest is primarily focused on COVID-19, with occasional links to other matters of importance to you, our readers.

Several weeks ago, we cut the frequency of the Daily Digest to three days per week (Monday, Wednesday and Friday). We did so for two reasons. First: The open rate for these Daily Digests had decreased ever so slightly, and I feared y’all were suffering from news fatigue. Second: Frankly, I needed a break. Each of Daily Digest takes, on average, about two hours of my time, meaning the digest had added 10 hours to my work week. By going down to three days a week, I was able to reclaim four hours of my time per week for either personal matters or other work.

So … as we head into August, it’s time to re-evaluate things. The Daily Digest isn’t going anywhere; we’re just trying to figure out what to include in it, and how often you want it to appear in your inbox (and at CVIndependent.com).

That survey, again, can be found here. Thanks for your time, and for helping us figure out how best we can serve you, our amazing and talented readers.

Today’s links:

• From our partners at CalMatters, via the Independent: The vast majority of California’s schools will not be reopening this fall—at least to start. As a result, parents are scrambling. Key quote: “Millions of working parents … need to wade through constantly evolving scenarios about the school year ahead, weighing the twin stressors of how prolonged campus closures will affect their childrens’ learning and mental well-being, as well as their own livelihoods.”

This just in from the city of Palm Springs: “In an effort to flatten the spread of COVID-19 and minimize large gatherings, the city of Palm Springs today issued a new supplementary order that requires restaurants, bars, wineries, distilleries and breweries to close from 11 p.m. until 5 a.m. The temporary order goes into effect at noon on Friday, July 31, and will remain until the COVID-19 emergency is abated. Guests already in the facilities at 10 p.m. may be allowed by the operator to remain until 11 p.m. Only staff needed to close, open or clean can be in such facilities between the hours of 11 p.m. and 5 a.m.” Interesting.

• A sliver of good news: The COVID-19 hotspot messes that are Arizona, Texas and Florida are indeed sill messes—but there are signs of improvement.

• And a sliver of hope: The final-stage, large-scale study of a promising SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is officially under way

Alas, globally, the coronavirus news is not good, as nations in Asia, Europe and elsewhere are issuing new restrictions and closures because of outbreaks. (However, it should be noted that these outbreaks would be mere nits here in the U.S.). Sigh.

• Google says its employees will be working from home for another year. Yes. Another whole year.

• Sinclair Media—a conservative-owned company that has 294 stations nationwide—was going to run a segment over the weekend featuring whackadoo “Plandemic” conspiracy theorist Judy Mikovits claiming Dr. Anthony Fauci himself created SARS-CoV-2. However, thank goodness, the company had a change of heart.

• In my post-print-deadline haze, I forgot to mention last week that I was again a guest on the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast, along with hosts Shann Carr, John Taylor and Brad Fuhr, and expert Dr. Laura Rush. Check it out! 

The New York Times takes a look at current state of antibody testing, and more or less concludes that we’re doing it wrong.

• Related-ish: Riverside County today released the results of an antibody study—and almost 6 percent of the people tested had the antibodies. That means less that less than a third of the COVID-19 cases in the county have been reported, if true.

The Washington Post takes a heartbreaking look at some of the chaos that’s unfolded in California’s prisons as a result of the coronavirus. Key quote: “Before the pandemic, women at (the California Institution for Women) were allowed out of their cells for 23 hours a day. They worked and participated in professional training or personal development programs. That ended in mid-March, along with family visits. Women say they now often spend 23 hours locked in their cells, with little information on how long the latest lockdown measures will last or when they’ll be able to exercise outside, call their families or even be allowed to shower.”

The Major League Baseball season could be in jeopardy, as the Miami Marlins team is in the midst of an outbreak, affecting 11 players and two coaches. As of now, only three games, total, have been postponed—but needless to say, this is not good.

• It turns out FEMA has been sending expired and faulty personal protective equipment to nursing homes across the country. What in the heck? 

The Save Our Stages bill has been introduced in Congress; it would offer a lifeline to independent performance venues across the country. Rolling Stone recently spoke to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, one of the sponsors of the bill.

• Our friends at The Conversation examine the various lawsuits filed against the Trump administration because he’s sending mysterious federal law enforcement into various cities, foremost Portland.

A study of Microsoft employees newly working from home revealed some fascinating things. Key quote: “One overarching result of being stuck at home—at work—is that the working day has become longer. ‘People were 'on' four more hours a week, on average,’ say the researchers.”

• Finally, let’s conclude with this humorous call to change our vocabulary because of the pandemic, including the introduction of terms like “Zoom Tourism” into our vernacular.

That’s the news for the day. Please, if you’re able, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent, to help us continue providing quality local journalism, for free, to all. Stay safe; wear a mask; and, as always, thanks for reading.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Friday, all. We survived another week!

Today’s news links:

• Under pressure from the Trump administration, the CDC has released new school-reopening guidelines that The New York Times callsa full-throated call to reopen schools.” Yeesh. 

• The governor today announced that the state would take more steps to protect essential workers. Key quote: “The governor said his administration has fallen short in educating businesses on how to safely reopen, and he's trying to make up for that with a new public information campaign targeted at employers. The state launched a new handbook for business owners and employers to support a safe, clean environment, with guidance on everything from cleaning guidelines to what to do in an outbreak.”

• The much-needed next round of stimulus spending—including a possible extension of extra federal unemployment benefits, which will run out in mere days—is likely several weeks away, according to the Senate majority leader.

• Related: NPR and Bloomberg both offer updates on the impending nationwide eviction crisis.

Also related, here’s some good news locally, from The Desert Sun: The city of Palm Springs has extended its eviction moratorium through Sept. 30.

• So … if/when that glorious day comes when there’s a coronavirus vaccine available, who will get the first doses? How will that be decided? The New York Times looks at the matter. Spoiler alert: The word “lottery” comes into play.

• The FDA has now recalled some 77 different types of hand sanitizer that federal regulators say are toxic.

• This is a nasty virus. NBC News reports that the CDC revealed today that many people who get COVID-19, but are not hospitalized, can have lingering effects from the illness for weeks or even months.

• Orange County is quickly becoming the state’s coronavirus hotspot—and beleaguered experts there are having a hard time figuring out the cause, according to the Los Angeles Times. This quote from the county’s acting health officer, Dr. Clayton Chau, speaks volumes and will make you want to bang your head against the wall: “It’s quite difficult, even the person themself would not know,” he said during a briefing Thursday. “‘Well, I was at the bar; I was at the beach; I was here; I was there, where did I get infected?’ It’s a very difficult question to decipher, and all case investigators and tracers do their best to try to ask people, ‘Where were you at so we can pinpoint?’ But, as far as I know, we can’t really pinpoint.”

• Meanwhile, the virus continues to spread in Los Angeles—largely among people of color.

• McDonald’s is the latest large businesses to say it’s going to start requiring customers to wear face coverings. What took ya so long?

• Riverside County plans on giving out 10 million masks via local nonprofits, churches and businesses. They’re calling it the Masks Are Medicine campaign.

Meanwhile, they’re getting serious about masks in Indiana: As of July 27, people not wearing masks there could be charged with a misdemeanor.

• Related: There have been a lot of recent news articles about the science behind masks. NPR cites scientists saying that if 95 percent of people wore masks, coronavirus transmission would decrease by at least 30 percent; meanwhile, CNBC says the more layers a mask has, the better.

• Many so-called experts have declared that the pandemic has essentially ended the era of the office, in favor or working at home. However, The Conversation says not so fast. Key quote: “Organizational life is founded on relationships. Sure, the current remote work experiment has demonstrated that more jobs can be done virtually than many managers previously assumed. But jobs are comprised of tasks; organizations are comprised of relationships. And relationships require ongoing—and often unintended—interactions.”

• Also from The Conversation: The U.S. coronavirus testing system is a mess—but you probably knew that already … and it isn’t going to be easy to fix.

• Speaking of testing: Adm. Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for health in the Department of Health and Human Services, says tests soon will be able to look for both SARS-CoV-2 and the flu. Yay?

• The lost year of 2020 continues: The Dinah, the huge party weekend for lesbians and queer women every year, will not be held this year.

• How much of 2021 will be lost, too? This just in from the county, via a news release: “The 2021 Riverside County Fair and National Date Festival, set for February 12-21, has been canceled and hopes to resume in 2022 with its 75th year celebration. In addition, the Queen Scheherazade Scholarship Pageant, scheduled for November 2020, is also being canceled. Queen Scheherazade and her court act as goodwill ambassadors leading up to, and during, the Fair in February.”

Movies keep getting pushed back, too: Disney has delayed the release of Mulan, and all Star Wars and Avatar films are being delayed a year.

• And finally, now for something completely different: The New York Times yesterday published a piece on the Pentagon’s Office of Naval Intelligence—the secretive agency that looks into UFO reports. The Times botched the piece by writing it in such a droll and formal fashion—and by burying some holy-shit-level revelations about some of the office’s findings. Key quote: “Eric W. Davis, an astrophysicist who worked as a subcontractor and then a consultant for the Pentagon UFO program since 2007, said that, in some cases, examination of the materials (gathered from purported UFO crashes) had so far failed to determine their source and led him to conclude, ‘We couldn’t make it ourselves.’

That’s enough for the week! Stay safe. Wear a mask. Enjoy the weekend, as best you can—safely, of course. Oh, and if you can spare a buck or two, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent; we’re giving you great local journalism free of charge … but it isn’t cheap to produce! The Digest will be back Monday.

Published in Daily Digest

Happy Tuesday, everyone. Let’s get right to it:

The city of Palm Springs announced today that an employee has tested positive for the coronavirus, and that all employees who had direct contact with the employee are being tested and quarantined at home. My two cents: Don’t be concerned by announcements like this; take them as a good sign: We know the virus is out there, and diligent actions like this will help stop the spread.

The deadline to apply for $33 million in rental assistance—up to $3,500 per household—is just two days away. Get details and the application here.

• Meanwhile, some more shady counting is going down in Florida, as the Department of Health has told hospitals to decrease the numbers of COVID-19 patients they’re reporting in their ICUs. Here’s an explanation why.

Younger people are driving the increases in COVID-19 cases in some places seeing spikes, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci. “The next couple of weeks are going to be critical in our ability to address those surges that we're seeing in Florida, Texas and Arizona,” Fauci said.

• On a happier note, Fauci said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that there will be a vaccine available around the first of the year, which, if you’re keeping track, is about six months from now.

• Oh, and Fauci made it clear that, despite what the president says, nobody has asked him to slow down testing—and, in fact, he said the federal government is working on doing more testing.

• Public-health experts yesterday explained to a House committee that systemic racism is to blame for a disproportionately high number of COVID-19 cases in America’s Black communities.

A doctor with UCSF answers five questions you may have about asymptomatic carriers of SARS-CoV-2. Key quote: “Public health experts don’t know exactly how much spread is caused by asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic patients. But there are some telling hints that it is a major driver of this pandemic.”

• Because the United States is not exactly doing a bang-up job in flattening the curve, the European Union is considering barring Americans from visiting.

Washington state has become the latest place to require that people wear face coverings in public places. Lives. Saved.

• Remdesivir can currently only be administered intravenously, meaning someone pretty much has to be hospitalized to receive it. However, Gilead Sciences is working on an inhalable version—which means it could be given to people suffering from COVID-19 when they’re at home, before the disease can further progress. One doctor told the San Francisco Chronicle that’s a potential game-changer.

Square, used by a lot of small businesses to collect payments, is holding up to 30 percent of businesses’ payments all of a sudden. Square claims it’s to protect against possible refunds or risky transactions—but The New York Times found that to often be a lame excuse.

• Well, folks, it’s come to this: A new Apple Watch feature senses when a wearer is washing his or her hands—and is offering prompts to encourage said wearer to keep going for the recommended 20 seconds.

A Los Angeles doctor invented a machine seven years ago that could quickly disinfect an airplane using ultraviolet light. Nobody was very interested in the idea until, well, along came the pandemic.

• Recycling efforts have taken a serious beating due to the coronavirus. Two researchers, writing for The Conversation, say they “are concerned about challenges facing the recycling sector and growing distrust of communal and secondhand goods. The trends we see in the making and consuming of single-use goods, particularly plastic, could have lasting negative effects on the circular economy.

• Finally, a researcher on alternative media, also writing for The Conversation, looks at how important alternative newspaper coverage of the Stonewall Riots was at documenting what actually happened—while The New York Times was running headlines like “4 Policemen Hurt in ‘Village’ Raid.

We’ll be back with more tomorrow. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Speak out against injustice. Please support independent alternative news sources, like the Independent, if you’re able. Thank you, and be safe.

Published in Daily Digest

Two quick notes before we launch into the day’s news (and, boy, there’s a lot of it):

• A plea to journalists and public officials who keep citing the number of reported COVID-19 cases, sans context: Please stop it.

Without knowing other data points—such as the number of total tests, with which we can determine the positivity rate—knowing the number of cases (aka positive COVID-19 tests) doesn’t tell us much.

Locally, given the much larger number of testing sites now—run by the county, the state, CVS, local health organizations, etc—we should expect the number of cases to rise somewhat. More testing means finding more cases (including asymptomatic ones).

When looking at data reports, look for the positivity rate and the number of hospitalizations; that information is much more useful. (By the way, both are on the rise, locally and in Riverside County, and THAT tells us something—specifically, that the pandemic is nowhere near over, and we all need to take precautions.)

Thank you. End of mini-rant. 

• A mental-health shout-out to all of you out there who also deal with depression and/or anxiety: If this has been a tough couple of weeks for you, please know that you’re not alone.

This is, simply put, a bonkers time. The reopening process, the continuing pandemic, the civil unrest … it’s a lot.

Please, hang in there. Do what you can—and nothing more. Realize it’s OK to feel anxious and sad. Remember to live in the now, and take care of yourself.

OK? OK!

Now, for the news:

• We’ll lead with the COVID-19 news today, most notably that summer camps, bars, gyms, hotels, museums, zoos and more in approved counties could reopen as soon as next Friday. The state guidance for all of these sectors is being posted toward the bottom of the page here, if you want to check it out. As for what didn’t make the cut yet: Nail salons, tattoo parlors, movie theaters, live theater, nightclubs and more.

• Key question: Will Riverside County be one of the counties to move further into the reopening process next week? Right now, we’re one of the approved counties, but we’re right on the cusp of the positivity rate criteria from the state, and hospitalizations are on the rise, too. Next week’s gonna be interesting.

The city of Palm Springs is cracking down on the mask requirement: As of today, all businesses must “post signage at entrances advising of the face covering and social distancing requirements.” Get the details here.

• More promising vaccine news: Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca could have vaccines available as soon as September or October—with up to 2 billion doses available by early 2021. There’s only one problem: While signs are encouraging, nobody knows for sure if it’ll work; manufacturing and testing will take place simultaneously.

• Take this one with that figurative grain of salt we keep talking about, and in this case, the grain should be the size of a house: A 10-person study showed that famotidine—aka Pepcid—helped people with COVID-19 recover. This comes on the heels of other encouraging science. So, here’s a tentative “Yay!” with crossed fingers.

• CNBC’s Jim Cramer—yeah, the guy with the buttons and whistles who shouts a lot—says that the pandemic has led to “one of the greatest wealth transfers in history,” thanks to the fact that the bulk of government aid has gone to big business, not us little folk. Grrrrr.

• Oh, great. In addition to COVID-19, fires, earthquakes and the heat, now the Coachella Valley gets to deal with West Nile virus, too.

Lowe’s has announced it’s ponying up $25 million in grants to help minority-owned businesses reopen.

• If you’ve gone to a protest, or plan on going to a protest, not only should you wear a mask, bring hand sanitizer and social distance as much as possible; after a few days, you should also go and get tested for COVID-19.

• If you can get past the occasionally incoherent verbiage, you can read here that Supervisor V. Manuel Perez will introduce a resolution next week to ask Sheriff Chad Bianco to review his agencies policies and report what he finds. Uh … OK, sure. We’ll see what’s in the actual resolution on Tuesday, but this sounds pretty weak, at least at first glance.

• Meanwhile, the Legislature is going to consider clarifying when and how rubber bullets can be used. According to the Los Angeles Times, “although the legislation has not yet been drafted, comments by lawmakers indicated their goal is to curb the use of rubber bullets for crowd control against peaceful protesters and those breaking city-imposed curfews.” It seems strange we need to legislate that projectiles shouldn’t be used against PEACEFUL PROTESTERS, but here we are.

However, the state may very well do more than that. Gov. Newsom called today for more action, including restrictions on crowd-control techniques and “carotid holds.”

• From the Independent: Our partners at CalMatters talked to four different protesters across the state about why they’re speaking out. What they had to say—and what they’ve experienced—is quite revealing.

• If you’re going to the protest in Palm Springs tomorrow—starting at 9 a.m. at Ruth Hardy Park—wear a mask; wear sunscreen; bring water; and be safe, please.

• Finally: I heard from some people that they had problems with the link to the Palm Springs ShortFest info we had in yesterday’s Daily Digest. As far as I can figure, the link was correct, but the extra stuff that the email system puts in for tracking purposes didn’t jibe with the Film Fest’s website. As a work-around, Google “Palm Springs ShortFest” and click on the first link. My apologies for the snafu.

That’s all for today. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Fight injustice. If you like what we do, and can afford to help us continue producing quality local journalism that’s free to all, consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back on Monday, if not before—and watch CVIndependent.com over the weekend.

Published in Daily Digest

We have more than 25 news links today—a new Daily Digest record—so let’s get right to it:

• On the I Love Gay Palm Springs podcast this week, I joined hosts Brad Fuhr, Shann Carr and John Taylor to discuss the various news with Dr. Laura Rush; The Standard Magazine publisher Nino Eilets; and Clifton Tatum and Andre Carthen from Brothers of the Desert. Check it out.

• Protests force change! Some members of Congress are developing “a sweeping package of police reforms,” according to NBC News.

• Unfortunately, the Trump administration, showing a clear inability to “read the room,” doesn’t seem too interested in reforms. “Apart from supporting a federal civil rights investigation into Floyd’s death, the president has offered no proposals for changing how police use force, train new officers or interact with their communities,” according to the Los Angeles Times.

More change being forced by the protests: Los Angeles is considering cutting up to $150 million from the police budget to instead invest in communities of color.

• Yet more change: The chancellor of California’s community college system—where 80 percent of the state’s police officers get training—wants to change the curriculum to address systemic racism.

• Observers in Washington, D.C., have noticed a very disconcerting thing: law-enforcement officers with no visible affiliation or personal identities. This. Is. Scary.

• Also scary: The number of incidents of police violently using force against peaceful protesters continues to grow.

• Twitter is an odd mix of community, fun and simply terrible people. Well, community and fun won the battle against simply terrible people today: A bunch of K-pop fans took over the white-supremacist #WhiteLivesMatter hashtag by using it to share their fave stars, videos and memes—meaning the hate was hard to find among all the K-pop.

• As if I needed more proof that I should have picked another damned profession (kidding) (mostly), the United States is now on Reporters Without Borders’ list of deadliest countries for journalists.

• Also from the journalism world: Newsrooms around the world are currently in the midst of a debate: Should our coverage show protesters’ faces?

• Meanwhile, journalists at two major newspapers are none too pleased with the actions of their editors: Journalists of color at Philadelphia Inquirer are taking a “sick and tired” day to protest a recent “Buildings Matter, Too” headline, while journalists at The New York Times are speaking out against an op-ed mentioned here yesterday by Sen. Tom Cotton that called for the feds to use the military to tamp down on the protests.

• Independent contributor Keith Knight—he does The K Chronicles and (Th)ink comics that appear on the weekly Independent comics page—shared with us this list of “anti-racism resources for white people.”

• Not a cause for panic, but a reminder that we all have to take precautions: Eisenhower Medical Center confirmed it’s seeing more positive COVID-19 tests from the community in recent days.

• COVID-19 testing sites in Los Angeles County were either closed or limited due to the protests and curfews. This has public health officials—and others—concerned.

• We’ve all seen that graph of the various waves of death caused by the flu pandemic of 1918-19. While it’s possible we may see similar patterns with COVID-19—although let’s hope not—this is a very different time, and a very different virus, according to The Conversation. That’s both a good thing, and a bad thing.

• Hmm … Riverside County did not update its COVID-19 stats today. According to a tweet from Dr. Cameron Kaiser, the public health officer: “Due to technical issues, we were not able to access local data from the state's CalREDIE website. We apologize for this delay, and will strive to have updated #COVID19 data and information for you tomorrow, June 4.” (He meant tomorrow, June 5, we assume.)

• The Trump administration continues to use COVID-19 as an excuse to roll back environmental protections permanently.

• Hooray for … Chuck Grassley? The Iowa senator has pledged to block two Trump nominations until his administration explains why Trump fired two different watchdogs.

The Pentagon got billions in stimulus money to fight the pandemic. However, much of that money has gone unspent … and some of it that has been spent has been spent rather strangely.

• National employment numbers continue to rise (albeit it a slower pace)—and now the government layoffs are beginning—including in Palm Springs and La Quinta.

• We’ve mentioned in this space the dangers of (necessarily) rushed science taking place in the battle against COVID-19. Well, a major study regarding hydroxychloroquine—President Trump’s COVID-19 drug of choice—was just retracted by its authors.

• Schools reopened in Israel two weeks ago. However, students are testing positive for the coronaviruscausing some schools to close. In fact, there’s discussion of closing all of them again.

• From the Independent: The latest piece in our Pandemic Stories series looks at the Palm Springs Power, the collegiate baseball team that plays at Palm Springs Stadium every summer. The team’s season was supposed to start last week, but was—to nobody’s surprise—delayed. However, team management is keeping fingers crossed for some sort of season to take place at some point.

Las Vegas is again open for business.

• And finally, let’s end on a brighter note: The Palm Springs International Shortfest has announced its official selections for 2020! Because the in-person event is not happening this year, not all of the selections will be shown—but some will be streaming online between June 16-22. Get all of the details here.

That’s all for today. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Fight injustice. If you have the means, and you value independent local journalism, we kindly ask you to consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Published in Daily Digest

Viewers of the local news on NBC Palm Springs may have recently caught a short segment on all of the wonderful things Amazon is doing during the pandemic.

“Millions of Americans staying at home are relying on Amazon,” the piece begins, before going on to talk about how “the company is keeping its employees safe and healthy,” and giving its oh-so-safe employees more than $800 million in increased wages and overtime pay.

Unfortunately, this segment is slanted at best—and dangerously misleading at worst.

Oh, and this segment wasn’t news. It was produced by Amazon, and sent to TV news stations around the country via a PR wire service.

Most TV-news reporters ignored it; a few actually called out Amazon for sending out this piece of packaged crap in the first place.

But at least 11 TV stations, according to Courier Newsroom, took the piece and ran with it … including NBC Palm Springs.

And now the truth that NBC Palm Springs “report” was lacking: Amazon is having its annual shareholder meeting tomorrow—and some of those shareholders want to know more about what Amazon actually is doing to protect its employees, because so far, it hasn’t been enough. According to CNBC:

Tensions have been growing between Amazon and warehouse workers nationwide, as the numbers of confirmed cases and deaths at its facilities have climbed. Warehouse workers have called for the company to put in place greater safety protections, including providing paid sick leave and closing down facilities where there are positive cases for additional cleaning.

Amazon has repeatedly declined to disclose how many warehouse employees have died from the coronavirus, but has confirmed eight deaths as they were reported by various media outlets. The company also hasn’t provided a total number of workers who have fallen ill from the virus, though one estimate from Jana Jumpp, an Amazon worker in Indiana, pegs the total number of cases at 900 employees nationwide.

I reached out to Bob McCauley, NBC Palm Springs’ senior vice president, as well as Gino LaMont, listed on the NBC Palm Springs website as the news department contact, to ask them how this happened. As of this writing, I have not yet gotten a response.

So much stuff that’s presented as “news” or “journalism” these days is, well, NOT. Numerous local publications run press releases from various organizations without disclosing that’s what they are, and some even sell stories to groups and businesses without disclosing to readers that they’re actually paid ads. None of that, of course, is right … but that’s how they do it.

But this is unconscionable. At least eight Amazon workers have died.

NBC Palm Springs, you really need to serve your viewers better, and you have some explaining to do.

Today’s links:

• The big news today: Gov. Newsom surprised the heck out of a lot of people when he announced that barbers and hair salons could reopen in counties—including Riverside County—that have moved into the second part of Phase 2. However, other businesses listed in Stage 3—including nail salons—remain closed. 

• Palm Springs business owners, take note: The city will be holding a webinar at 9 a.m., Thursday. May 28, titled “Restaurant, Retail, Hair Salon & Barbershop Re-Opening Guidance for Business Owners.” Get all the information here.

• Other Palm Springs news: The library is opening for curbside pickup. Learn more at the Facebook page.

• Hey, Apple Store fans: The El Paseo location is reopening this weektomorrow, to be specific.

• When full-on Stage 3 comes—which is anticipated to happen sometime in June, but who in the hell knows at this point—that will include theme parks, so says the state.

• Speaking of who in the hell knows … The Washington Post today broke down how truly little we still know about SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.

All sorts of people and businesses are suing Gov. Newsom over the shutdown orders. The latest: Patioworld is suing the state, because … uh, outdoor furniture showrooms are essential? Anyway, if you’re so inclined, bookmark this helpful lawsuit tracker, from our partners at CalMatters.

Another stimulus bill is coming at some point in the future, probably, maybe? After waffling, Mitch McConnell now says it’s likely.

• For the first time ever, Twitter has fact-checked something Trump tweeted. The president, of course, reacted to this news in a restrained and reasonable manner. (*Snort*)

• Sad but not surprising: The number of Americans dealing with anxiety or depression has skyrocketed since the pandemic hit.

• Local company Ernie Ball makes strings for guitars and all sorts of other musical equipment—and when COVID-19 arrived, the company started making masks, too. Now, Ernie Ball is making those masks available for free to everyone in the Coachella Valley.

• A whole lot of people who purchased travel insurance have been horrified to learn that pandemics are a common travel-insurance exclusion. The Los Angeles Times looks at the issue—and explains which companies are doing right by their customers, and which ones are not.

That’s all for today. If you’re a fan of our print version, the June edition is hitting streets this week—or if you want it mailed to you for a nominal fee, we can have that arranged. If you value good, honest, doesn’t-run-lying-crap-from-Amazon journalism, and you can afford it, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

It’s been a crazy, confusing and all-round fascinating news day, so let’s get right to it:

Riverside County wants to move forward in the reopening process! That was the message sent today by the Board of Supervisors, who are trying to make the case to Gov. Newsom that we’re pretty gosh-darned close to being ready to move further into Stage 2.

• Los Angeles County is going to be closed deep into the summer! That was the somewhat misleading message sent by this Los Angeles Times headline: “L.A. County could keep stay-at-home orders in place well into summer.” The headline was later changed. Why? Well, the story ran amok on social media, and late in the day, the county’s public health director, Barbara Ferrer, sent out a news release clarifying that things were not as dire as the Los Angeles Times made things out to be: “L.A. County is continuing its progress on the road to recovery, with planned reopening of beaches for active recreation and an expansion of permitted retail activities coming tomorrow. While the Safer at Home orders will remain in place over the next few months, restrictions will be gradually relaxed under our 5-stage Roadmap to Recovery, while making sure we are keeping our communities as safe as possible during this pandemic. We are being guided by science and data that will safely move us forward along the road to recovery in a measured way—one that allows us to ensure that effective distancing and infection control measures are in place. We’re counting on the public’s continued compliance with the orders to enable us to relax restrictions, and we are committed to making sure that L.A. County is in the best position to provide its 10 million residents with the highest level of wellness possible as we progressively get back to normal.”

• Gov. Newsom was busy today. First, he signed an order allowing pharmacies to begin administering COVID-19 tests, which is a good thing. Second, he released a list of criteria restaurants will need to follow when they’re allowed to reopen for dine-in business. Third, he gave two Northern California counties the go-ahead to move further into Stage 2.

• Meanwhile, Arizona, our neighbors to the east, will pretty much be open by the end of the week.

• But back here in California, the state university system announced that—like College of the Desert locally—the fall semester will almost entirely take place online.

• Is all of this confusing the bloody hell out of you? Does what’s opening and closing and NOT opening and closing seem contradictory and random and baffling? I feel the same way! So, to make you feel better, here’s a delightful whiskey sour recipe. And if you don’t drink, here’s an easy chocolate cake recipe. The prep only takes one bowl—a needed dose of simplicity during these chaotic times.

• More encouraging drug news: While more study needs to be done, a combination of three drugs appears to be effective in helping COVID-19 patients recover.

• More evidence that the new normal may be better in some ways: Twitter has told most of its employees that they can work from home even after this whole mess is over.

• The city of Palm Springs could lose as much as $78 million in tax revenue this fiscal year and next, and wants federal help.

The California Legislature is working on a relief bill that would, among other things, give renters more than a decade to catch up on rent payments missed as a result of the pandemic.

• Are you young? Then Riverside County would like you to consider getting tested.

• Related: This opinion piece from Time magazine explains how testing a representative sample of the population could help slow the spread of the virus.

The economic shutdown is devastating small businesses. We knew that was happening, but The Washington Post has the numbers to prove it.

• Parts of Europe are starting to reopen, too, and The Conversation says the United States may be able to learn some lessons from that process.

Some people are perfectly happy with being stuck at home. God bless them.

• And now for something completely different: Cactus Hugs examined the mysterious message that was being painted on the roof of the Red Barn bar in Palm Desert. UPDATE: The message is finished, and it says “Suck My Governor.” While Red Barn management meant this as an insult, it sounds to me like a compliment, in that it’s an invitation for the governor to receive some pleasure, and I have clearly thought about this too much so I am going to be quiet now.

That’s all for today. Buy our Coloring Book, because you want to support local journalism AND the Create Center for the Arts AND local artists. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you have a few bucks to spare, and you value independent local journalism. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

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