CVIndependent

Wed11252020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

California, to be frank, is a mess right now: According to Gov. Gavin Newsom, there are 367 major fires burning statewide right now.

Let me repeat that, because it’s shocking: There are 367 major fires burning right now.

The Los Angeles Times has a summary here. I also recommend checking out SFGate.com for free coverage of the various fires in Northern California. This is bad, folks.

Other news of the day:

• The Post Office, to be frank, is a mess right now. The American College of Physicians issued a statement expressing concern that the recent slowdowns in delivery could kill people: “Across the country millions of patients regularly depend on the U.S. mail to receive their prescription medications. There are already reports from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which fills 80 percent of its prescriptions by mail, that veterans have experienced significant delays in their mail-order prescription drugs. A delay in receiving a necessary prescription could be life-threatening.”

Did you know the U.S. Postal Service delivers live poultry? Yes, it does, and the delays are causing horrifying problems with that, too.

• The recent uproar over the USPS dismantling has caused major Trump donor and Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to say further operational changes will be suspended until after the election. But he hasn’t said whether the USPS would undo the changes already made.

Why in the world, in 2020, is California subject to rolling blackouts due to a lack of electricity? Our partners at CalMatters offer this helpful explainer.

• Let’s take a break from all of the heinous news for this: The Census is hiring temp workers. According to an email to the Independent: “The U.S. Census Bureau is hiring hundreds of workers for temporary jobs available in Riverside County for the 2020 Census. The 2020 Census Jobs website is now accepting applications for Census Takers at pay of $17 per hour. Census takers will visit the households that have not responded to the census, speaking with residents, and using electronic devices (such as smartphones issued by the Census Bureau) to collect census data. Census takers will follow local public health guidelines when they visit, and will be wearing masks. Census takers must complete a virtual COVID-19 training on social distancing protocols and other health and safety guidance before beginning their work in neighborhoods. Apply now at 2020census.gov/jobs or call 1-855-JOB-2020 (562-2020).”

Here’s the weekly District 4 COVID-19 report, from Riverside County. (District 4 is the Coachella Valley and points eastward.) Again, it shows hospitalizations trending down, cases slightly trending down (maybe), and a crazy-high 16.4 percent weekly positivity rate. Worst of all, we lost 20 more of our friends and neighbors.

• Meanwhile, Eisenhower Health’s latest stats show the weekly positivity rate at their facilities trending downward, and currently in (the high) single digits. So … I remain confused.

Desert Hot Springs has been the hardest-hit valley city when it comes to unemployment during the pandemic. That’s the conclusion of data-crunching by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership; see the breakdown here.

• From the Independent: Chef Andie Hubka is known for her three highly regarded restaurants in Indio and La Quinta, as well as her Cooking With Class school. Where other valley chefs have cut back service during this era of takeout and patio dining, Hubka has actually gone in the opposite direction by launching a brand-new concept, Citrine. Andrew Smith explains.

• Also from the Independent: Wine columnist Katie Finn looks at how South Africa has turned to alcohol prohibition as a way to slow the spread of COVID-19but that move, enforced at times with brutal violence, has devastated the country’s wine industry.

• The FDA was getting set to give emergency authorization for the use of blood plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients as a treatment for the disease—but then federal health officials, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, stepped in and stopped the authorization, saying the science isn’t clear yet. The New York Times explains.

• Speaking of unclear science: In this space, we recently linked to one of many articles, all from reliable sources, about a study regarding the effectiveness of various face masks. One of the key takeaways, as reported, was that neck gaiters could actually make matters worse. Well … as Science News reports, that conclusion may not be accurate. One of the problems: “The study was meant to figure out how to evaluate masks, not compare their effectiveness.”

• Keep in mind what the last two stories have said about the vagaries of reporting on studies these days when we bring you this lede, from MedPage Today: “More data from observational studies, this time in hospitalized patients, indicated that famotidine (Pepcid AC), which is used to treat heartburn, was associated with improved clinical outcomes in COVID-19 patients.” The story goes on to make it clear that more research is needed before definitive conclusions are drawn.

• Here’s something that can be definitively said: It’s very important that people get flu shots this year. A nursing professor, writing for The Conversation, explains why. Key quote: “As a health care professional, I urge everyone to get the flu vaccine in September. Please do not wait for flu cases to start to peak. The flu vaccine takes up to two weeks to reach peak effectiveness, so getting the vaccine in September will help provide the best protection as the flu increases in October and later in the season.”

• Also from The Conversation: A recent survey of essential workers in Massachusetts revealed that far more Black and Latino workers don’t feel safe on the job than white workers. Here is why—and why that’s important.

Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism nonprofit ProPublica doesn’t mince words regarding COVID-19 and Sin City: “Las Vegas casinos reopened June 4, and they have become a likely hotbed for the spread of the novel coronavirus, public health experts said. But if tourists return home and then test positive for COVID-19, the limitations of contact tracing in the midst of a pandemic make it unlikely such an outbreak would be identified.”

• CNBC looks at the status of that extra $300 per week in unemployment benefits that President Trump has promised. So far, 11 states have been approved for the money (California is not one of them)—but a whole lot of people are going to be left out regardless.

• Finally, Taiwan—a country which has done a much better job of managing the coronavirus than the United States has—recently hosted a 10,000-person arena concert. Time magazine explains how the experience was different, thanks to the specter of SARS-CoV-2.

That’s enough for the day. Count your blessings. Wear a mask. Wash your hands. If you have the means, please consider supporting quality independent local journalism by becoming a Supporter of the Independent. The Daily Digest will return Friday.

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

This has been one hell of a news day—one of the busiest news days since this whole mess started, I’d say—so let’s get right to it:

• Big news item No. 1: The state’s reopening process is slated to begin on Friday, with, for starters, retail stores allowed to open for pickup. Here are the details on Gov. Newsom’s announcement today, from our partners at CalMatters.

• Big news item No. 2: According to The New York Times, a Trump administration projection anticipates deaths from COVID-19 will skyrocket over the next month. Meanwhile, states—many of which are currently seeing a rise in cases—are continuing the reopening process. Meanwhile, nothing makes sense anymore, and I need a cocktail.

• Big news item No. 3: Arizona, aka our neighbors to the east, are pushing the accelerator on the reopening process, with salons able to open on Friday, and restaurants able to open for dine-in service a week from today.

• Big news item No. 4: The continuing debate over Riverside County supervisors’ possible move tomorrow to cancel the orders of its own health officer, in favor of aligning with the weaker state orders. Earlier today, local supervisor V. Manuel Perez released a Facebook video in which he explained his thinking. I listened to all 37-plus minutes of it, and as far as I can tell, he is leaning toward rescinding some of Dr. Cameron Kaiser’s orders (on school closures, for example), and keeping at least parts of others (on face coverings and short-term rentals). He also announced the county would be opening two new testing sites in our valley—in Mecca and Desert Hot Springs—and touched on plans for the county to mobilize 200 contact-tracers. After listening to the whole thing, I now need another cocktail.

• This just in: The Coachella Valley Economic Partnership just released a report on the economic damage being wrought locally by the pandemic. I haven’t had a chance to read the whole thing yet, but, well, the news is pretty terrible. Read the report yourself here.

• From the Independent: Kevin Fitzgerald recently spoke to Allen Monroe, the CEO of The Living Desert, about where the Palm Desert zoo stands, and what the future holds. Interesting takeaway: The Living Desert had made emergency plans regarding earthquakes and fires—and that helped the zoo handle the pandemic, in some ways.

• There was a world summit today focusing on the effort to come up with a coronavirus vaccine. The U.S. didn’t take part.

• Testing on the rise: The Desert AIDS Project is now offering COVID-19 testing to anyone who wants it, even people who are asymptomatic. However, you need an appointment. Get the details here.

• OK, after all of that stuff, here, look! John Krasinski’s Some Good News is back with a new, graduation-themed episode.

• Feeling better? Good! Unfortunately, we now have to tell you that, according to this Washington Post headline: “The coronavirus pandemic is pushing America into a mental health crisis.”

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 58: A security guard was shot and killed after telling a Family Dollar customer in Flint, Mich., to put on a face mask.

• The Wheels Are Coming Off, Chapter 59: Another restaurant—this one in Orange County—was packed after opening its doors this weekend.

• In other Orange County-related news, the governor decided to stop picking on them, and is allowing the beaches there to reopen.

• If you miss live music, and you’re not worried about the virus, Missouri is the place for you: Concerts can be held there now, as long as attendees are socially distanced.

Our friends at the Create Center for the Arts were burglarized recently. Sigh. However, they’re keeping up their efforts to make personal protective equipment for local medical professionals by using 3-D printers

• Do you find yourself at times needing to take a break from all the pandemic news? You’re most certainly not alone.

• According to The Conversation, if the world gets an effective vaccine, and vaccine-deniers refuse to take it, that could be very, very bad for all of us.

Donald Trump had an uncle who was legitimately a brilliant scientist. A friend of the late John G. Trump said he’d be horrified by his nephew’s antics.

More promising news on the drug front, this time regarding a flu drug called favipiravir, made by Japanese company Fujifilm.

• If you’re starting to look like a mountain man, or perhaps a Muppet (or, in my case, a Muppet mountain man), consider these self-care tips from Esquire.

That’s more than enough. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Be kind. Buy your coloring book. Please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent if you can afford to do so, so we can continue doing quality local journalism. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

When you meet John McMullen, one thing becomes immediately clear: He likes to talk. Considering McMullen has spent his life in radio and alternative media, it’s clear he recognized his direction very early.

McMullen, 55, and a Palm Springs resident since 2007, began his obsession with media arts in elementary school.

“I had always been fascinated by the people’s voices coming out of the box on the dashboard,” he recalls. “My uncle was a well-known radio personality (in the Seattle area), and I remember sitting in his lap while he was on the radio. I told my uncle, ‘I’m going to go into TV—you can get awards!’ He said, ‘Why not radio? There are awards there, too.’ He relished having me want to follow in his footsteps. My cousins and I spent summer vacations from age 12 working at my uncle’s radio station.

“I remember in the fourth-grade, my best friend and I terrorized the principal when we discovered they had video equipment. We insisted they let us make game shows. By the seventh-grade, a guy I’m forever grateful to—Dick Dunbar, who taught English, media arts and journalism—let us begin producing a TV show. KING-TV was the station in town, and we got to see behind the scenes. We did our own version of a show, and they came out and did a story on us.

“When I was a sophomore in high school, my uncle’s radio station affiliated with Mutual Radio Network. I wanted to build a high school radio station. I picked up the phone and called the affiliate-relations department at Mutual and asked, ‘If we build a station, can I get programming from you?’ They ended up donating studio gear to the project. I even got to be a guest on Larry King when I was 16!”

McMullen and his younger brother, Matthew, were raised in Seattle. His mom was a housewife and then became a human-resources manager.

“She taught me that we need to be kind to others, sensitive to people less fortunate, and respectful of others’ feelings. She was also a big influence in my being a Democrat,” McMullen says.

Along with McMullen’s grandfather, his father ran a hide-curing business.

“Dad was a life-long Republican, never intolerant but more about how government shouldn’t dictate what happens,” he says. “I watched his metamorphosis into voting for Obama, which blew my mind. It was such a positive thing for me to see him change about public policy out of sheer common sense. His main influence on me was about work ethic and the importance of family. He taught me to never judge a book by its cover.”

During his junior year, a teacher put a halt to the broadcasting.

“He said they were going to bill our parents for the equipment use, or I would be suspended,” McMullen says. “After spending Christmas with my grandparents, who were then in Tucson, they said I could come and live with them the rest of my junior year. I walked into the principal’s office and said, ‘I’m not going to pay, and you’re not going to suspend me.’ They gave me my transcript; I flew to Tucson; and I started school there in the media-arts program. I was in heaven.”

McMullen’s career began to take off while he was a senior in high school.

“A guy from the Seattle radio station was then running KMPC in Los Angeles,” he says. “He asked me to return to Seattle. He had a Christian station they wanted to turn into a Top 40 station, and he wanted me to come back and help him build it. I got to be operations manager for what became KUBE-FM. One of the best things I learned there was that when you think you know the answer to a question, ask it anyway.”

A turning point came when McMullen heard that a man on another station had committed suicide. “He had left a note mentioning that he was an old man in a young man’s game. It made me stop and think: ‘What would I do if I didn’t do radio?’

“I took a vocational test that showed I had an aptitude for desktop publishing, so I got a temp position doing user testing. When the company merged with Adobe, I got the chance to go to Europe for a couple months.

“That led to Reel Networks, which ultimately came out with audio/video streaming software where I got to create a project doing LGBT programming. A friend had just launched Planet Out, and I started doing five-minute drop-ins and a two-hour talk show, Hangin’ Out. Next, I started my own company and built an audience of over 2 million with all-talk for LGBT audiences. That’s when I fully realized the power of digital media.”

McMullen’s radio and media experience includes stints in Honolulu, San Francisco, Salt Lake City, San Diego and New York City, where in 2002, he became director of news/talk entertainment programming at what would later become SiriusXM Radio. In 2005, McMullen moved to Los Angeles, still working for Sirius, and in 2007 accepted the position of director of news, talk and sports programming with KNews Radio, then owned by Morris Media, in Palm Springs.

“At KNews, I was committed to building as much local content as possible,” he says. “Local advertisers want to reach a local audience. When I started, KNews had only three hours a day that was local; when I left five years later, we had seven to nine hours seven days a week.”

McMullen has now started iHubRadio, a streaming radio network with locally generated programming, in conjunction with the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), which helps entrepreneurs provide local jobs through their Palm Springs iHub “incubator” for startup operations. (Full disclosure: McMullen hired me to work at KNews in 2007, and I am now on iHubRadio.)

After spine-fusion surgery in 2014, McMullen had another health setback earlier this year: a mild stroke.

“I opened my mouth to speak and only heard gobbledygook,” he says.

Now fully back on the job, McMullen is building iHubRadio into what he hopes will grow and expand into other markets.

“My focus now that we’re up and running is less on the product itself and more on where it goes next. CVEP’s mentorship has shown me how much personal and professional growth I still need to do, like learn to delegate,” McMullen, says with a laugh, “but I could do this the rest of my life and be happy.”

As long as he can talk.


A PERSONAL NOTE: In my article about Jeanie Ribeiro, I accidentally transposed her age: She’s a vibrant 67 years old, not 76. My apologies.

Anita Rufus is also known as “The Lovable Liberal.” Her show That’s Life airs weekdays from 11 a.m. to noon on iHubradio, while The Lovable Liberal airs from 2 to 4 p.m. Saturdays. Email her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.. Know Your Neighbors appears every other Wednesday.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

At the recent 2015 Coachella Valley Economic Summit, hosted by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), roughly 700 representatives of the valley’s elite businesses and employers listened to rosy reports about the current national, state and local economy.

According to presenter Michael McDonald, of Market Watch LLC, job growth in the valley in 2015 was at its highest level since 2005. Employment in the leisure, hospitality and health care sectors is at 15-year highs, while hiring in the professional/business services sector is higher than it has been since 2008. Median home prices have rebounded to match prices in early 2008, when they began the free-fall precipitated by the widespread economic downturn.

It was a good day for CVEP, founded in 1994 “to promote a diversified, year-round economy by facilitating programs that stimulate job creation in key industries through business attraction, retention and expansion, and unite business and education leaders to create well-trained and educated future workforce.” CVEP published its first Economic Blueprint, described as “an ambitious, forward-thinking, market-based strategy to advance the region through the downturn (of 2009-11) and position it for long-term growth and prosperity,” back in 2009.

“The Coachella Valley is kind of an oasis that’s friendly to business (in a way) that you don’t get in other parts of our state,” CVEP’s director of marketing, Steven Biller, told the Independent in a recent interview. “CVEP can do things as a group and as a region that the cities can’t do individually, because they don’t have the budgets or our negotiating leverage.

“The cities expect us to bring them business and create jobs. That’s how we’re judged. And we’re trying to get the valley workforce built up to be able to take those jobs.”

CVEP has adopted a three-pronged approach to achieve these goals: Workforce Excellence, an effort to improve the local workforce through advanced educational and career opportunity; the Small Business Development Center (SBDC), which assists startup and established businesses with financial planning, capital, marketing, sales, human resources, technology and more; and the iHub, which launches businesses and hopefully creates local high-paying jobs.

CVEP officials claim these efforts are paying off. At the SBDC, since 2010, more than 355 jobs have been created, with 223 jobs retained and more than $25 million in loans and equity generated. At the iHub, more than 30 companies have received assistance, resulting in 100-plus new full-time jobs. Through the Workforce Excellence program, 136 business organizations have engaged with the valley high schools to impact career and college aspirations of 3,331 students—while providing 2,152 scholarships.

“We have a low college-attendance rate here in Coachella Valley, and CVEP is fighting that,” Biller said. “We give out between 300 and 325 college scholarships a year to kids going to community college and university. They all have to be seniors, and they have to demonstrate financial need. Right now, most people who apply and qualify are getting the scholarships, because we tend to have more scholarships available than we have kids applying for them. That’s a big story: There’s so much money being left on the table, it’s crazy.”

The average value of the available scholarships is $2,500 per semester to a student attending community college, and $5,000 per semester to a public university student.

While the local economy is doing well, however, not all is well in CVEP’s world. Back in 2009, five-year funding agreements were reached between CVEP and Coachella Valley’s nine independent municipalities. Several of the cities have since reduced their funding commitment to CVEP—or eliminated it completely. Coachella, La Quinta, Indian Wells and Desert Hot Springs discontinued the funding, while Cathedral City ceased specific support of the iHub program, but continues its $25,000 annual contribution to CVEP overall.

Representatives of Indian Wells, Coachella and Cathedral City expressed a recurring theme: City budget shortfalls forced the funding curtailments.

Indian Wells City Manager Wade McKinney told the Independent: “The city’s economic position has been significantly affected by the recession and by the loss of redevelopment, and so our support to many Coachella Valley organizations was eliminated. We created a community grant program with a fixed funding level of about $250,000, which increases consistent with city annual revenue increases.”

Would CVEP would be eligible to receive any of that available funding? “I believe they are eligible; you just have to be a non-profit, but I don’t believe they’ve applied to us for any grants,” McKinney said. “It’s certainly very competitive, and we receive lots of applications.”

CVEP’s Biller had a different take: “Indian Wells can find the money, but they just don’t want to,” he said. “Now they should, because what about all the people working in their resorts? Do they want good hospitality and hotel and restaurant work staff?”

Coachella City Councilmember V. Manuel Perez explained: “What caused us to make the unfortunate decision to opt out of CVEP for 2016 was the need for budget cuts. We had to cut our fire and police budgets, so we felt compelled to make cuts in other areas as well. Unfortunately, CVEP was one of those.”

Biller perceived a somewhat different cause for the Coachella City Council decision: “In the cases of La Quinta and Coachella, which just dropped their funding support, they’re more interested in retail business development, and we are not a retail organization except, through the SBDC. So those two cities are going to take the $10,000 each that they were giving to CVEP annually and make their own strategic choice to create a new entity they call the East Valley Coalition, and do their own retail outreach. The East Valley Coalition happens to be based in CVEP’s Indio office. So, although it sounds antagonistic, it’s not. These cities need to put their dollars where they think they’re going to get the most impact.”

Biller said he hoped cities would see the light and begin funding CVEP again at some point.

“Hopefully, in the future, people will understand that they should be part of a regional strategy, because a rising tide lifts all boats,” Biller said. “We’re not going to stop providing scholarships to the kids in Coachella and La Quinta. We’re not going to stop serving businesses that come to us. We’re not going to stop anything. That would be crazy, because it goes against everything that CVEP is about.”

Coachella’s Perez agreed with Biller. “This new East Valley Coalition’s main focus will be economic development in the eastern Coachella Valley, which is one of the priorities of the new Coachella City Council,” Perez said. “But we want outcomes that we can measure for success. It is my hope and the hope of the city that, after this year, we go back to CVEP. This is not a long-term decision.”

Published in Local Issues

Robert Stearns, the executive director of ArtsOasis, passed away Wednesday, Dec. 3, after a brief illness.

There is so much to say about my dear friend and colleague. Robert (pictured to the right, in a photo from last year) graduated from the University of California at San Diego in fine arts and art history. He then began his incredible career in the arts, which started in the early ’70s in arts and cultural management with the Paula Cooper Gallery and The Kitchen in New York City. He curated exhibitions, developed education projects and served as a senior staffer at some of the country’s leading contemporary arts institutions. He was the director of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, the performing arts program director of the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, and the inaugural director of the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio. He also served as an adviser to private foundations, state arts councils and the National Endowment for the Arts.

Robert came to live in Palm Springs in 2006 with his partner, Rich. Soon thereafter, he became a member of the Palm Springs Public Arts Commission. He also served on the board of directors of the Architecture and Design Council of the Palm Springs Art Museum, the Coachella Valley Arts Alliance, and the La Quinta Arts Foundation. He was also a member of the Classical KUSC Desert Arts Advisory Council.

In 2007, the California Desert Arts Incubator and a local advisory group to the University of Southern California were considering what the desert’s creative community looked like, and what its needs were. These two groups were the genesis of ArtsOasis. Robert, along with his colleagues, began emulating efforts to expand the creative economies in metro centers such as Santa Fe, N.M., Denver, Minneapolis, Seattle and Columbus, Ohio.

It’s widely known that art, design, media and marketing generate enormous revenues in business receipts, wages and local taxes. Here in the Coachella Valley, where tourism is a leading industry, it’s crucial to foster a robust creative community and, therefore, cultural tourism. With support from the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership and other stakeholders, ArtsOasis was able to perform an economic study of the creative community in the Coachella Valley. In 2012, the study revealed that this sector was worth an annual $750 million in earnings and receipts, with more than $1.5 billion in overall activity.

This study remains an incredible source of information and has spurned greater collaboration in arts, media and entertainment. Robert ensured that ArtsOasis would spearhead the promotion, advocacy and development of our unique community through evenhanded representation and collaborative work.

Together with members of the ArtsOasis Creative Council, Robert enhanced ArtsOasis’ reputation as a one-stop shop for the valley, and later extended this influence to the high desert. Through artsoasis.org, he developed a wealth of free resources for the creative community, including a calendar of events. The website became a platform for individuals and organizations to create free listings; a selection of those listings appears each month in the Coachella Valley Independent. ArtsOasis also promotes events through Facebook and recently began a partnership program to promote our award-winning community theaters.

Robert’s energy, reliability and knowledge—the latter accumulated over decades in the arts world—became the catalyst for ArtsOasis to be recognized as a primary resource in the area’s creative community. His ability to collaborate made it possible to connect organizations, businesses and artists with each other and jointly promote the creative community.

As ArtsOasis evolved under Robert’s direction, it increased its promotion and advocacy role, and began to promote cultural tourism through the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Before Robert’s passing, he was engaged with the CVB and other stakeholders in defining the future of ArtsOasis. This work will now continue in the spirit of collaborative working that epitomized Robert.

David Clinton-Reid is the acting executive director of ArtsOasis. Those wishing to remember Robert Stearns with a donation in lieu of flowers may do so by sending a memorial contribution to Palm Springs Art Museum Architecture and Design, Edwards Harris Pavilion, 300 S. Palm Canyon Drive, Palm Springs, CA 92264.

Published in Community Voices

When the pain of the Great Recession was just beginning to be really felt in 2009, Brian McGowan—then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s deputy secretary for economic development and commerce—approached Coachella Valley leaders about developing an innovation hub.

“We didn’t really have a clue what it meant,” said Palm Springs Mayor Steve Pougnet at a news conference on March 31.

Spurred by McGowan, Pougnet—along with Cathedral City Mayor Kathy DeRosa and then-Desert Hot Springs Mayor Yvonne Parks—formed the Coachella Valley iHub. After the three cities chipped in, the iHub became one of the first six in California—there are now 16 in the state—and it’s starting to pay dividends: 21 tech-related companies are currently part of the Coachella Valley iHub.

“We do have the top iHub in the state,” said Tom Flavin, the president and CEO of the nonprofit Coachella Valley Economic Partnership, which is now working with the three founding cities (as well as the cities of La Quinta, Palm Desert and Indio, plus Riverside County) on the iHub.

More dividends are coming, too: According to a study released at that March 31 news conference, the iHub is projected to have a $12.5 billion impact on the Coachella Valley between 2017 and 2036. Yes, that’s billion with a “b.”

By 2036, the study—by research economist John Husing—estimates that 81 companies involving clean/renewable energy, technology, health/medicine or advanced manufacturing will be operating in the valley as a direct result of the iHub. A projected 3,544 new jobs will be in place at those companies in 2036, with a total payroll of $174 million.

The iHub currently includes companies working at the CVEP business center, and at the iHub Accelerator Campus, located near the Palm Springs International Airport. Leaders are also hoping to build a second iHub campus, for advanced manufacturing, in the East Valley with the assistance of a federal grant.

“We have a lot of work ahead of us, but the economic payoff is significant,” Flavin said.

Joe Wallace, the managing director of the Coachella Valley iHub, explained that Husing’s study makes some fairly conservative assumptions. It assumes that seven companies will “graduate” (i.e. go out on their own from the iHub) each year, with an average of 15 employees each; half of those companies are projected to go out of business. The bulk of the surviving companies are assumed to have 10 percent job growth per year, with expansion stopping at nine years and 35 employees; every fifth company is presumed to keep expanding beyond 35 employees, and every 10th company’s job growth is projected to be 20 percent per year. Each job’s pay is modestly projected at $48,900—the median salary of an Inland Empire manufacturing worker in 2013.

The development of an iHub is especially important in the Coachella Valley, elected officials say, because the valley’s economy is currently over-dependent on tourism—a fact which reared its ugly head during the Great Recession.

It’s also important because the valley currently lacks a lot of good-paying jobs outside of the service and tourism sector. Today, many young people who grow up in the valley are forced to leave due to a lack of work.

“Most of the kids who grow up here would like to stay,” Wallace said.

Silicon Springs Enterprises—a company that partners with and helps develop tech companies that want to do business in the Coachella Valley—was the first company to graduate from the iHub. It’s a great example of a new local company that has big plans—and big potential.

“We want to create another Silicon Valley, one that’s smaller and more efficient, in the desert,” said Joel Fashingbauer, Silicon Springs Enterprises’ president and chief operating officer, at one of the company’s regular Desert Tech Meetups, as reported by the Independent in December.

At the March 31 press conference, Pougnet patted himself and his fellow mayors in Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs on the back for taking the initial steps to form the Coachella Valley iHub in 2009 and 2010.

“We invested money when times were tough—and we’re now beginning to see the fruits of our labor,” he said.

Published in Local Issues

April is going to be one helluva month in the Coachella Valley.

I came to this somewhat obvious conclusion after a marathon editing and compiling session, during which I perused tens of thousands of words of copy—much of which details how and why, exactly, April is going to be so amazing.

First up: music. Brian Blueskye has been hard at work over the last month-plus, doing interviews, gathering information and writing his butt off in preparation for our special print Music Issue. The result: four profiles on bands playing at Coachella; two profiles on Stagecoach bands; stories on other bands not to miss at both Coachella and Stagecoach; and a rundown of information on Coachella-related parties occurring before and during the festival. He also did two Lucky 13 interviews, as well as his normal monthly Blueskye Report. All of this music coverage, by the way, is fantastic; some of it is already online at CVIndependent.com, and the rest of it will appear within the next week or so.

If you’re a music-lover, and you see Brian around town during the month of April, you should really buy him a drink for keeping you so well-informed.

Next up: everything else that’s going on around the Coachella Valley—and there is a lot going on, much of which is detailed in a brand-new feature we’ve added to the Independent: monthly events listings from ArtsOasis, the creative-resource center that’s a project of the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership. Head on over to ArtsOasis.org, and you can peruse a fantastic events calendar that contains all sorts of great information—or you can just look in our Arts & Culture section for a selection of these listings, which have been edited and compiled by the Independent staff. (Don’t see your event included in the ArtsOasis calendar? Head to the website and submit the information, dang it!)

And now, back to music: The Independent is proud to be sponsoring a great April event that benefits a fantastic cause. The Pre-Coachella Warehouse Party is taking place at Coachella Valley Brewing Co. in Thousand Palms from 3 to 8 p.m., Saturday, April 5. The party will feature two stages of DJ music, live art, yummy food and, of course, great beer. In fact, you’ll get four beers along with your $35 admission fee; click here to buy tickets. Proceeds from the event will go to EcoMedia Compass, a group that wants to save the Salton Sea by promoting awareness of the sea, the problems it is facing, and potential solutions. (Props to my friend Alex Harrington, aka All Night Shoes, for being one of the party’s organizers.)

Yep. April’s going to be a truly special month for the Coachella Valley. Let’s get it started, shall we?

Published in Editor's Note

On a recent Monday evening, around 60 people mingled on a patio at Jackalope Ranch in Indio.

The attendees—a mix of students, teachers, business people, tech experts and politicians—sipped drinks and munched on chips, guacamole and skewered chicken as they chatted. All in all, it was a typical-looking business-related social gathering.

But the goals of the people at this innocuous-looking event, called the Desert Tech Meetup, are far from innocuous: They want to make the Coachella Valley a technology-business hub.

The gathering—the second such Desert Tech Meetup—was held by Silicon Springs Ventures, in partnership with web/marketing firm Graphtek, and the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP).

“We’re all here for Silicon Springs: the movement,” Joel Fashingbauer, Silicon Springs Ventures’ president and chief operating officer, told the crowd. “We want to create another Silicon Valley, one that’s smaller and more efficient, in the desert.”

In between mingling time and giveaways of gift cards and Graphtek coffee mugs, Fashingbauer talked about how Silicon Springs—a company that launched in May—and its partners plan on creating that other Silicon Valley.

In October, Fashingbauer and his four partners launched Disruptor Labs, a project to develop online apps and mobile products. Silicon Springs is working with CVEP’s Workforce Excellence effort—the goal of which is to create a better-trained, more-educated local workforce—to launch the STEAM Pipe Initiative at local schools, including College of the Desert. The company is helping develop a program, called Encore, that will pair retired and semi-retired executives in banking, technology and other applicable fields with startup entrepreneurs in need of expertise. Finally, the Silicon Springs Ventures team has been meeting with people from various tech startups—about 45 or so, Fashingbauer estimates—and will help the most promising find funding.

All of these plans undeniably sound great. But they also lead to a question: Why the Coachella Valley? Why here?

Fashingbauer, in an interview prior to the tech meetup, said he gets asked that question a lot. For him, in part, it’s personal: His wife has family who lives in Palm Desert, and he’s been coming here for about 15 years.

“It’s been our oasis,” he said, mentioning the “Sunday blues” that all smitten visitors face when they have to leave this oasis to return home.

But the “why” also goes beyond the personal. Fashingbauer pointed to the great weather, the affordable cost of living (especially regarding housing, when compared to Silicon Valley and its Los Angeles descendent of sorts, Silicon Beach), the lack of traffic and the overall quality of life that makes the Coachella Valley an attractive place for tech businesses.

There’s one more reason, one that combines the personal and the practical: Everyone who loves the Coachella Valley agrees that the desert could use more industry. He mentioned the economic damage done here by the Great Recession, when the real estate market crashed, and tourism suffered. Technology firms didn’t get hit as hard by the downturn, said Fashingbauer, a digital-products expert who most recently was the vice president of product development for Atari.

The goals of Silicon Springs Ventures are undeniably ambitious—but they’ve gotten the attention of the valley’s leaders. Indio Mayor Elaine Holmes and Palm Desert Mayor Jan Harnik were among those mingling at the recent Desert Tech Meetup.

Of course, these goals will not be reached overnight.

“We’re doing a lot of behind-the-scenes seed-planting, and having conversations with leaders,” said Rich Silveira, Silicon Springs’ chief financial officer and vice president of finance. “Some of those seeds will fall away and die, and some will come to fruition.”

Of course, more seeds were being planted at the Desert Tech Meetup; while the gathering looked innocuous, the brain power present in the all-ages crowd was undeniable.

The third Desert Tech Meetup—one of four planned for 2014, thanks to CVEP’s support—is scheduled for Thursday, Jan. 30, and will most likely be held in downtown Palm Springs. Fashingbauer said the format may be tweaked; for example, the Silicon Springs team is looking at possibly bringing in computers for attendees to use for demonstrations and information-sharing.

“Silicon Valley can’t really grow any more. They’re out of space,” Silveira said. “We provide this expanse of real estate and a lower cost of living. … If we feed the ecosystem, our young graduates don’t have to leave here. They can stay right here.”

For more information on Silicon Springs Ventures, including more details about Desert Tech Meetups in 2014, watch siliconsprings.com, and follow the company on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SiliconSpringsVentures.

Published in Local Issues

I’m always fascinated by people who find ways to change their lives and pursue their dreams.

Leanna Bonamici, 58, of Palm Springs, is a great example of such a person.

After a career in insurance and real estate, Leanna became a wine consultant, buyer and educator, teaching classes on how to have “wine-pairing dinners.”

“It was a very engaging subject,” she says. “I loved it. People would say, ‘I have to impress my boss.’ I always told them that the best bottle of wine in the world is the one that’s your favorite!

“But after 10 years, I wanted to do more. I was interested in how to reach the masses of people who aren’t really into wine.”

Growing up in Los Angeles, Leanna had wanted to be a producer—organizing projects and seeing them come to fruition. “I wanted to be behind the scenes. For years, I carried around the UCLA extension catalog, and I finally took classes in production. I’ve always loved that side of things. Anybody can have a great idea, but how do you monetize it?”

Leanna wrote to various show business experts, asking them questions about getting into the production side. “I especially contacted women in the industry. They were very congenial and helpful,” she says.

While working for an independent producer, Leanna attended a production-related event in San Diego, put on by the San Diego Film Commission and the San Diego Chamber of Commerce. “There were world leaders in the industry, and I knew after that what I wanted to do. I got a day job with a fundraising organization, putting on events to raise money from people in the entertainment industry. Putting on events is production—you have to know where every fire is and how to put it out.”

Leanna came to the Coachella Valley in 1998 when her mom died, and her dad got sick. She committed to being his full-time caretaker. Her first “job” here was volunteering for the Palm Springs International Film Festival.

“While my dad was healing,” says Leanna, “he came up with a plan to pay off the national debt! So when he read about possible bankruptcy in Desert Hot Springs, he devised a plan to help the city. In the process of speaking about it at a council meeting, someone stood up and said, ‘I’ve got a local TV show, and I’ll put you on the air.’ So I thought, ‘I can work with them and produce a wine show.’”

When Leanna learned that a post-office building in DHS was becoming available, “I was asked if I could turn the building into a studio for local producers to use.” She made a deal to buy the building. “For the next 10 months, our entire family transformed the building into a production facility for rent by others, including post-production capability. Then I began developing projects of my own.”

Leanna produced a documentary about the mineral waters of DHS, and a television series about restaurants, Two Forks Up, both of which aired locally. She also produced a feature film which, she says smiling, “is still awaiting distribution.”

Leanna’s most visible current project is Shorts Showcase, featuring short films from around the world, which runs on PBS stations throughout Southern California. “I was thinking about this project for a long time,” she says. “I especially love the documentaries. They’re real stories and history.”

Leanna is now partnering with Palm Desert resident Carole Krechman on the CV Studios Entertainment Network. “We’re building a network for premium content—no gore, violence, or porn. We just want good product,” Leanna says.

One new show is Cooking It Up With Karly, featuring 11-year-old Karly Smith, a talented youngster who demonstrates healthy food alternatives for young people and their families. Another is the 30-minute weekly series The Real Desert, featuring desert resident/historian Steve Brown.

Leanna was a founder of the Palm Springs Women in Film and Television chapter in 2001. “We bring together women and men connected to the entertainment industry, as well as raise money for scholarships that support interested young people.”

Leanna’s hope for the CV Studios Entertainment Network includes support for the development initiative articulated by the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership that focuses on creative arts and design as one of its core sectors for economic development.

Leanna is also supportive of the performing arts pathway being offered by Rancho Mirage High School. “I love the idea of having that here,” she says, “but there are not enough jobs. We need to back up those students by building good production facilities locally.”

If money were no object, what would Leanna be doing? “I love what we’re building with network and production capabilities. However, if I had total freedom, I would still be producing, but I’d do the wine documentaries I’ve always wanted to do. I want to tell those stories, reaching the broadest audience possible—and I’d be doing it for the fun of it as well!”

As for pursuing one’s dreams, I finally graduated college at 59, then got a law degree, and just completed a master’s degree in Education. Like Leanna, I believe it’s never too late to change your life.

What are you waiting for?

Published in Know Your Neighbors

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